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I Am Forbidden: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Anouk Markovits
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (230 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.00
Kindle Price: $7.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

A family is torn apart by fierce belief and private longing in this unprecedented journey deep inside the most insular sect of Hasidic Jews, the Satmar.     
     Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Christian maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman's daughter, Atara. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live. Mila's faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore.
     A beautifully crafted, emotionally gripping story of what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law, and centuries of tradition collide, I Am Forbidden announces the arrival of an extraordinarily gifted new voice and opens a startling window on a world closed to most of us.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Markovits’ sprawling novel chronicles family members’ diverging generational journeys anchored by the laws of religion. In Transylvania, in 1944, five-year-old Mila Heller’s parents are brutally killed. She is taken in by the family of Hasidic rabbi Zalman Stern and becomes close with the younger daughter, Atara. The family moves to Paris’ Jewish quarter, where the children are raised under Zalman’s strict religious observance. As teenagers, the girls are sent to a seminary, and while Mila’s religious faith deepens, so does Atara’s dream of freedom. At 17, Mila is engaged to Josef Lichtenstein, an orphan who witnessed the murders of his own parents. Meanwhile, when Atara learns that she is next to be married, she chooses an opposing path. Markovits then shifts the focus to Mila’s adulthood in America, where she and Joseph experience their own struggle with the expectations of their faith and community. The saga culminates in 2005 in Manhattan, where long-held secrets jeopardize the core of the Sterns’ identity. Markovits creates a vibrant, multilayered tale set within the conflicting obligations of faith and family. --Leah Strauss


“Markovits makes her stamp on the literary world with an ambitious, religiously-centered debut. [T]his ambitious, revelatory novel richly rewards your efforts and heralds a promising new writer.” –Entertainment Weekly

“A lyrical novel about obedience, rebellion and tragedy by an author who grew up in the Hasidic community she writes about. With poetic grace, she succeeds at depicting the culture from the inside out, conveying the way in which a life of limitation and law can provide a bulwark of meaning.” –Ilana Teitelbaum, Huffington Post

“Anouk Markovits’s I Am Forbidden contrasts the fates of a Hasidic family’s two daughters, one who breaks with tradition to pursue a life of intellectual and emotional freedom, the other who cleaves to convention only to find her childless marriage is leading her to consider a course of action that falls well outside her religious beliefs.” –Megan O’Grady, Vogue

“Tracing the Stern family from Transylvania to Paris and Brooklyn, [Markovits] focuses on daughter Atara and adopted daughter Mila, closer than close, until Atara wants more than the Satmar world can offer. Markovits plays fair: the believers are not stupid; their harsh world has beauty. We dwellers in the modern world know what “should” happen, but Markovits shows why, for those in the other world, it’s not that simple.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Markovits creates a vibrant, multilayered tale set within the conflicting obligations of faith and family." Booklist

“Orphaned during the Holocaust, two ultra-orthodox Jews bound by love and faith are driven apart by the same forces in a sensitive consideration of tradition and commitment. [A] sober, finely etched scrutiny of extreme belief set in a female context.” Kirkus

“Markovits immediately draws the reader in to a family saga of faith and longhidden secrets, set among the Hasidic Jews of eastern Europe and spanning four generations.  A stunning novel; highly recommended.” Library Journal  

I Am Forbidden moved me deeply. It brings many things wonderfully to life, including parts of history that I thought I knew but I now know better. Above all, it makes vivid the great comfort of strict religion, but also its sometimes painful confinement. I was swept away when I first read it. Now I am enlarged after reading it again.” 
─John Casey, author of National Book Award winner Spartina and Compass Rose
“It is the rare novel that manages to be both achingly sympathetic and formidably honest. I Am Forbidden is both of these, and much more. Anouk Markovits's exploration of the obligations of faith—and the equally pressing obligations of the loving heart and inquisitive mind—is riveting.”
─Tova Mirvis, author of The Ladies Auxiliary and The Outside World
“In this gem of a book Anouk Markovits takes a reader to an exotic world, portrayed with such warmth and precision that the journey feels perfectly real and the characters become your intimate friends.”
─Lara Vapnyar, author of There Are Jews in My House
“In her intense and appealing novel on the Satmar pious enclave, migrating after the Holocaust from Transylvania to Williamsburg, Anouk Markovits scrutinizes with a sharp eye both sides of the human conflict between free choice and limitless obedience. It's a fierce and sometimes tragic struggle for happiness through belonging to a community closed in its tradition or through independence and individuality—involving mind and soul, integrity and ideal, hope and despair. The revelatory, well-structured narrative, focuses on a topic that goes beyond Jewish, Christian or whatever religious or non-religious dogma to the very core of many ardent tensions in our troubled modernity.”
─Norman Manea, author of The Hooligan’s Return

“This novel is truly a seminal work on the topic of Jewish Fundamentalism. With unparalleled detail and poignant storytelling, this saga of a Satmar family explores and debunks the myths upon which the extreme version of Judaism we know today was founded, and it does so with a resounding clang. I found myself gripping the edge of my seat quite a few times, holding my breath while I waited to see how the characters in this novel would find self-determination. People will read this novel both because it is a beautiful story told in a magical setting, and because it completely unravels a world heretofore tightly enclosed. I extend my deepest gratitude and admiration for Anouk Markovits, who so skillfully brought my world to life, and abolished the mysteries that remained of my childhood.”
–Deborah Feldman, author of New York Times bestseller Unorthodox

Product Details

  • File Size: 1500 KB
  • Print Length: 338 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B00HTC5JNK
  • Publisher: Hogarth; Reprint edition (May 8, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0067TGV0Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,465 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
122 of 127 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let Her Name Be Erased March 24, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Hasidic community is a world unknown to me. I couldn't resist a book that would reveal the exotic lives of those men with the side curls and long black coats - and their almost invisible women.

Now, after reading this intense novel, I at least know a few things that are forbidden: looking at statues of saints and Greek gods, switching on a light on the Sabbath, having marital intercourse on unclean days, reading this book. Anouk Markovits gives us glimpses of the countless rituals that guide Hasidic men, women, and children through every step of life. If you sin against the Law, your father can erase your name from the book of life and banish you to nonexistence.

I Am Forbidden focuses on the Satmar, the most insular Hasidic sect. It follows a Satmar clan from Transylvania to Paris, Manhattan, and Williamsburg. It opens just before World War II and brings us to the present day.

There's a terrific love story drenched in biblical imagery - a tense drama played out between a man and wife in the shadow of The Law. And there's a poignant tale of two sisters, one devout and one rebellious, estranged by the Law. Human love struggles mightily with the love of God in this book.

Memories of the Holocaust haunt these pages. We watch the murder of Jewish families in Transylvania - and we learn of a scandal linking prominent Jews and Nazis. Questions of right and wrong are a constant torment to the characters in I Am Forbidden. Guilt becomes a deadly force.

Like the rebel heroine of this book, Anouk Markovits left her Hasidic home to pursue personal freedom. The pain and the exhilaration of that decision can be deeply felt in I Am Forbidden. I found the book fascinating.
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits is a brilliant, poetic novel that begins during World War II in eastern Europe and ends in contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

During World War II, two children become orphaned. One, a young boy named Josef, loses his parents and sister to storm troopers and is adopted by a peasant woman in Translylvania. Her name is Florina and the two of them forge a loving bond. She renames him Anghel and baptizes him to protect him from the Nazis. In yet another scene, a young girl named Mila watches as her pregnant mother runs toward an open railroad boxcar calling, "Rebbe, Rebbe", and is shot down mercilessly by the Nazis. She is taken in by a Satmar family, a sect of Hasidim. The Zalmans adopt her and bring her up with love and as one of their own. They have a daughter named Atari who is nearly the same age as Mila. Atari and Mila grow up together.

As time progresses, Mila becomes more and more observant of the Satmar beliefs along with its laws and observances. Atari seeks to leave the sect and make a secular life for herself. This is considered heinous and the title of the book comes from this leaving. For ten generations, she and her offspring are `forbidden'. They are estranged from the family and not permitted to participate in any of the Satmar rituals or be acknowledged by family members.

Marriages are arranged by the Satmar and Mila is matched with Josef who, as a young boy was separated from Florina and sent by the Zalmens to Williamsburg in order to study Torah. This is a marriage of love despite it being arranged. The goal of Satmar Hasidim is to be fruitful and multiply. If, after ten years of marriage, there are no children, the husband is permitted to leave his wife and file for divorce.
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but oh, so depressing! April 24, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book reminded me why I dislike organized religion so much, especially any religion where the clergy believe they are the sole interpreters of god's word. To be sure, the Hassidic world it depicts is especially rigid, insular and intolerant, but I spent most of the book feeling absolutely suffocated. And given the subject matter, I'm not sure there's anything the author, who knows that world intimately, could have done to address it. I didn't find the book fascinating, as some might--it was bloody depressing.

I Am Forbidden traces the lives of an extended--and broken--family that has been ripped apart and reassembled by the Holocaust. It describes the endless rituals and restrictions that are part of everyday life in Hassidic communities, along with the guilt, brutality and destructiveness that can result when a member of the community, especially a female one, violates its numerous stifling laws and traditions.

Initially, the book is about the friendship and coming-of-age of two young stepsisters, Atara Stern and Mila Heller. Mila's parents are killed by the Nazis in Transylvania, but she makes her way to the home of her father's friend, Zalman Stern, where he and his wife take her in and raise her as their own. The friendship is reasonably interesting, set against the backdrop of Paris, where the family moves to to escape the Communist crackdown on Jews and religious practices generally. But most of the book is about Mila and her marriage to Josef, whose parents had also been killed, and who had been raised as a Christian for several years by the family's housekeeper. He is spirited back to his Jewish roots and sent to study the Talmud in Brooklyn's Hassidic community, where Mila joins him once they marry.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars The intense isolation that is expected of the members of these...
I had a hard time reading this book, as I do all accounts of the inner lives of those in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities written by people who have been brought up there, but... Read more
Published 23 days ago by Eileen Auerbach
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 28 days ago by lulustell
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Hard but important to read
Published 1 month ago by love to cook
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
Wonderfully imaginative. Hard to forget after you finishing reading.
Published 1 month ago by Judy
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, fascinating theology and history, but also great...
I thought this was a beautifully written book. The author draws on her own experiences in the Orthodox Jewish community of her upbringing, so she has great knowledge of the topic... Read more
Published 1 month ago by K. Dieng
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A love story woven into a glimpse of the orthodox Jewish community, this book is hard to put down.
Published 2 months ago by R. Wolf
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Terribly Boring
Published 2 months ago by linda burnson
4.0 out of 5 stars Orthodoxy Can Be Good for Your Soul
Strict rules are sometimes useful and sometimes destructive for relationship and communities. "I Am Forbidden" shows both sides of the coin so is therefore sometimes... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mary Ann Payne
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing writing
This is a deeply disturbing and tragic book, invoking horror at the inhumanity of some, deep sadness and grief at how it affects people, in short, a book I couldn't put down. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Pat Goltz
4.0 out of 5 stars " I Am Forbidden" - Well worth reading although a bit of a "downer."
A warning of sorts for the perspective reader. I do not think this novel is very uplifting, although it makes for a fascinating read. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jana L. Perskie
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