Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman
Reviewed by Moirae the fates book reviews
The child of a mentally disabled father and a mother who abandoned the community while her daughter was still a toddler, Deborah was raised by her strictly religious grandparents, Bubby and Zeidy. Along with a rotating cast of aunts and uncles, they enforced customs with a relentless emphasis on rules that governed everything from what Deborah could wear and to whom she could speak, to what she was allowed to read. As she grew from an inquisitive little girl to an independent-minded young woman, stolen moments reading about the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott helped her to imagine an alternative way of life. She had no idea how to seize this dream that seemed to beckon to her from the skyscrapers of Manhattan, but she was determined to find a way. The tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until, at the age of seventeen, she found herself trapped in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she had met for only thirty minutes before they became engaged. As a result, she experienced debilitating anxiety that was exacerbated by the public shame of having failed to immediately consummate her marriage and thus serve her husband. But it wasn’t until she had a child at nineteen that Deborah realized more than just her own future was at stake, and that, regardless of the obstacles, she would have to forge a path—for herself and her son—to happiness and freedom. (Synopsis provided by Amazon)
As a Messianic woman, I was interested in learning more about a different sect of Judaism. I must say that the sect Feldman is from is very different from how I was raised and how I live. Not different in a bad way, just different.
These types of books can be hard to review as I feel like I am reviewing the authors personal life. Instead of talking about what I liked and didn't like about the book, I'm going to talk about what happened in the book and the writing style.
I think it's safe to say that Feldman had a difficult childhood. She grew up in a very strict religious family. She doesn't tell a lot about the laws of Judaism so if you aren't very familiar with the laws and customs you may find yourself doing internet searches for terms used in the book.
I did love how she described Sukkot. Which is one of my personal favorite holidays. Her descriptions of the holiday and of her life in general, were very vivid. They make the reader feel as if they were there in the room with Feldman, which is always a wonderful experience for a reader.
Some of the scenes were painful to read. The way Feldman writes is so powerful that the emotions almost leap off the page and we can feel what Feldman felt.
I do think that she was brave to leave everything she knew behind and to move out into the secular world, that is something that many people could never do. I know I would never be able to leave all that I knew for a world foreign to me.
If you are interested in learning about the Orthodox Jewish community or if you like to read stories of strong women, I would highly recommend this book.
So say we all!