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I Am Forbidden: A Novel Hardcover – May 8, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth; First Edition (1 in number line) edition (May 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307984737
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307984739
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (217 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #375,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Review

“The wonder of this elegant, enthralling novel is the beauty Ms. Markovits unearths in the Hasidic community she takes us into. Ms. Markovits, big-hearted and surprising, tenderly captures the complexities of adulthood for the one who stayed.... I Am Forbidden whips by, its extravagant narrative steadily cast with complicated, thoughtful characters.” –Susannah Meadows, The New York Times

“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 captivating tale.” People
 
“Markovits’s heroines are disenfranchised but resourceful, possessing an innate spirituality, despite, or perhaps because of, the freedom denied them.” –New Yorker 

“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

“[A] story that will resonate with anyone who's ever bucked family expectations to find their own way of life.” –Oprah.com

“Markovits's portrayal of the contradictions and compromises of Hasidic faith is fascinating.” Times Literary Supplement

“Markovits brings off this balancing act with skill and daring. Everyone is given their due. Instead of disrespect or easy judgment, there is generosity of spirit and delicacy of the pen… This is a book absorbing as any midrash and as enlightening as a library. I feel its contribution immediately and powerfully, and am happy to have given my time to it. I recommend you do the same.” –Unpious

“A deeply felt account of people caught between worlds.” –The Jewish Daily Forward, Shoshana Olidort

  “In Anouk Markovits’s outstanding novel, the title words could apply to many scenarios within its pages: cultures, relationships, and expectations all provide constant obstacles to either rise above or muddle through. There are many delicate balancing acts, and through it all, Markovits’s characters shine through with determination and intelligence.” Historical Novel Society

“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  

“Anouk Markovits, the author of this spellbinding tale, has created a novel that is brilliant, beautiful and brave. Raised in a Parisian Hasidic Jewish community, Markovits avoided an arranged marriage at 19 by fleeing from her home. This experience informed her as she created Mila and Atara, two exquisitely drawn characters. Two girls raised as sisters in a strict Hasidic family; one continues in the family tradition; the other rebels. As the story of their lives unfold, these complex characters evolve in such graceful and powerful ways that they feel like old friends by the time we learn the full consequences of the choices of their youth. This book opens wide the interior world of the Satmar Hasidic Jewish sect, presenting the practices and traditions with a balance that helps us understand not only the choice to flee but the reasons to stay....If you have ever grown to question beliefs taught you as a child, struggled to find an autonomous identity in the midst of your family, hurt someone you love to save yourself or wanted more than the world allowed you, I Am Forbidden will speak to you and the voice will ring true. The writing is stunning, the execution flawless and the plot utterly gripping.” ─Stylist UK

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

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Customer Reviews

The characters were well developed and it was written very well.
Marilyn Schilling
It's a very moving novel, one that will stick with you for a long time after you finish reading.
Abria @ Read. Write. Discuss.
Throughout we learn about customs of the Hasidic sect of Judaism - the most conservative.
Wayne Crenwelge

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

118 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Patto TOP 500 REVIEWER on 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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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Daffy Du VINE VOICE on 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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