Unorthodox

Unorthodox

by Deborah Feldman

Gail Reid (12/09/12): I postponed writing a review of Unorthodox until recently when I heard the author speak at a book festival. I appreciated the book more after listening to this very sincere and highly intelligent 25-year old. When she writes about herself as a young pre-teen in school and as a teenage bride in an arranged marriage, I thought that the feelings she described were too mature for her age. After listening to her, I felt she was much more genuine and her message resonated more clearly. Deborah Feldman might have been writing about her oppressive life in the Satmar Hasidic movement, but she was arguing passionately for an end to extremism in all aspects of religion and society.
Rating: ***

Judy Stanton (11/02/12): What I love about reading is that it is a great way to learn about other people's culture and get inside their head to learn what they are thinking. So, I enjoyed reading about a version of Hasidic Jews, the Satmars, their beliefs and customs. I would find it interesting to read something written by a woman who is a true believer, to understand the mentality of women who accept and welcome a life that seems to me to be so restrictive. But, then again, if Deborah Feldman is right, that book would never be written, because they don't read or write English, for the most part, and likely have no interest in having outsiders understand them. The book also made me wonder how other women, like Deborah, could "get out" if they wanted to, with no education, no money, and likely, no support. Deborah was estranged from her parents, didn't have great family support, and had marital issues, so her departure didn't take that security from her. Still, she opted for a life without any family support, and at age 24, you have to give her a lot of credit for having such chutzpah. The book is testimony to how hard it is for young girls brought up in any fundamentalist sect to get out and take advantage of the type of life and freedoms that most of us (thank goodness) take for granted.
Rating: ***

Debbie Weiss (10/31/12): Deborah Feldman was raised in the Hassidic Satmar community of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York. She struggled as a young girl to make sense of and obey the rigid strictures that governed her daily life. Almost every aspect of her life was tightly controlled. Since her father was considered mentally disabled and since her mother left the community when Deborah was very young, she was raised by her grandparents in a very strict environment. Yiddish was the only language allowed and the reading of secular books was prohibited.

Deborah was wed at 17 in a pre-arranged marriage to a man she had only met for about 30 minutes. She was unable to consummate the marriage for over a year and this brought shame to her and to her family. At 19, she gave birth to a son and she became convinced that she had to leave the Satmar community for the sake of her own sanity and for the sake of her newborn child.

Deborah did escape from the community and this book is a memoir of the life she left behind. She wanted to write this book to help others who might be struggling in similar situations, but feeling helpless to alter their lives, trapped in very traditional roles and lifestyles.

Because many in the Satmar Hassidic community feel that the portrayal of their community in the book was negative and not necessarily an honest representation, there have been many attacks made against the book, its author and its publisher. Some are making comparisons to Jame Frey's A Million Little Pieces. Many newspapers and blogs in the religious community are making this author the target of verbal and written smear campaigns.

While this was not the most scholarly book I have ever read, it was interesting to learn about the lifestyle of this isolated Jewish community. Perhaps Deborah took some "literary license" in the exact details of the events that occurred in her life, I don't think it is a big deal and I suspect that all the hate mongers are just angry for their "dirty laundry" being aired in the public arena.
Rating: ***

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