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4.1 out of 5 stars
I Am Forbidden: A Novel
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2013
The writing is exquisite. Like a prayer....
I come from that land, in Transylvania, and it's all true to what my parents and grandparents told me. Yes it was like that: horrible and heartbreaking. And gentiles who helped, while so many others killed.
It is remarkable how well the author has been able to capture the orthodox Jewish mindset without being in the least condescending or even critical, while simultaneously demonstrating the tragic consequences of too rigid, too literal an interpretation of the Biblical texts and commentaries. One of the best novels on this topic - and that is really saying something.
Such a truly fine book. Read it and remember....
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
French author Anouk Markovitz paints a very disturbing picture of Hasidic Jewish life in her novel, "I Am Forbidden". Examining the lives of Hasidic Jews in Hungary/Translvania during WW2 and down the generations to life in Paris and then in Williamsburg, New York, Markovitz begins with a possible "crime", "dereliction of faith", something, by the real-life Rebbe of Satmir, Yoel Teitelbaum, He, along with his wife, was allowed to emigrate, with 1500 other "special Jews", to Switzerland rather than be sent with the rest of his community to the death camp at Auschwitz. This is historical fact and to my mind, as well as to several characters in Markovitz's novel, his saving himself on the so-called "Kastner Train", while the rest of the community, some 450,000 Hungarian Jews, were deported and killed at Auschwitz, was a vile use of his status as the "Rebbe of Satmir". He was also a virulent anti-Zionist.

Markovitz's novel begins with the Rebbe of Satmir's very real actions in 1944. Several of her characters were impacted - to the point of death - by what the Rebbe did. A family of survivors - including a girl orphaned when her pregnant mother was killed when she was trying to get on the Satmir's train - moved to France after the war and helped establish a Satmir community in Paris. Other survivors, including another orphaned child and saved by a Christian maid and then rescued after the war - moved to New York City and settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Eventually, the two orphans met and married and settled in Williamsburg, where they tried in vain to have children. Being unable to bear children made Mila and Josef an anomaly in the family-centered Hasidic community, where families often had 8 or 10 children. After ten years of marriage, Mila finally conceived a child under somewhat murky circumstances while on a trip to Paris. Josef had just received word on a test he had taken; he was declared "sterile". Who was the father of Rachel, the daughter of Mila and Josef?

Now, along with large families, the Hasidic communities also have strict religious practices. Men and women may not touch each other - except for married couples - and the two genders worship in separate sections in the synagogue. Women have "untouchable" times around the timing of their periods. Boys and men are given education - both religious and secular - but the girls, while educated, are not permitted to study the advanced religious texts their brothers do. The girls get married early, often in their late teens, to young men in the Hasidic community, and begin the life cycle all over again. To the outsider - both Jewish and gentile - the Hasidic community often seems backwards and restrictive. And maybe it is.

At the heart of the Markovitz's novel is the question of what happens when the "pure" Jewish line in a family is disturbed. Are the children born from such a union - and THEIR children down to 10 generations - "mamzers"? In Wiki, the definition of "mamzer" is "someone who is either born of adultery by a married woman, or born of incest (as defined by the Bible), or someone who has a mamzer as a parent". How are "mamzers" treated within the Hasidic community? Indeed, not well. Anouk Markovitz weaves Hasidic religious practices with recent history in her novel. She asks the questions that many observers of the Hasidic community wonder about, in a well-written novel with finely-drawn characters. Do these characters act as we do? Nope, because religion is not the main part of daily life for most of us as it is for the Hasidim. This is a good novel, one that may make the reader want to know more about the Hasidic community.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It took me a while to really get into this story, but once I got used to all the names I couldn't pronounce, the exotic locale that I had a hard time placing, and the Judaic terminology, I found myself totally engaged in this story that has all the best elements of a sweeping family saga. I Am Forbidden offers up a riveting look at one family and their struggles to keep to what they consider to be God's Laws. I know nothing about Hasidic culture, and what I learned in this book certainly doesn't make me a fan. The story of Mila and Josef, Zalman and Hannah, Atara and finally Judith spans three generations. All of these characters are very complex, and their internal struggles with God and family make for fascinating reading.

The story begins during World War II, when both Josef's and Mila's families are killed. Orphaned and placed in the care of Zalman, Josef is shipped off to America while Mila is raised in Paris. The author's portrayal of the role of women in this culture was eye-opening to say the least. As Atara struggles with questions concerning her faith and her own desire to see more of the secular world, Mila becomes even more firmly ensconced in her predestined future as a wife and mother. Atara's rebellion, which originally takes the form of a trip to the public library of all things, was well portrayed and I just wish we would have learned more of her story. This was my only complaint in what was otherwise a breathtaking novel full of drama and unimaginable heartbreak.

I Am Forbidden is not an easy journey to take, however I'm very glad I stayed with it. The glimpse into the Hasidic culture left me with lots of questions, and the story of the Jews leaving Transylvania left me with a new perspective on a horrible time. This novel is very sad, and I only wish I knew more about this culture that seems so desperate to constrain its people, encouraging punishment and neglecting forgiveness.

So, I Am Forbidden was a sometimes hard, bitter read that was wonderfully written and carefully observed. This is a recommend for any fan of literary fiction looking for a glimpse into a society rarely seen.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is set in the unique world of Hassidic Jews. It starts in Europe during the horrors of the Holocaust with a young Jewish boy having his life saved by his non-Jewish maid. He then saves the life of a young Jewish girl whose parents have just been killed. The war ends. The two children are saved. He reclaims his Jewish roots and is sent to America to study. She is taken in by an Hassidic family and is raised together with a young girl her own age. The details of their specific kind of Judaism are depicted in a way that reveals what it is like to be a member of this closed and strict community. It all feels very real.

As the years go by the two girls mature. One of them marries and moves to America The other is thrust out into the secular world. They do not meet again for many years.

The married one loves her husband and they follow the very strict laws of their people regarding intimate relations. But when, after ten years of marriage they still do not have children, the wife makes a choice that changes their personal world forever. How this all turns out is the stuff of high drama

The book is 300 pages long but I read it in a couple of days because I just couldn't put it down. The author thrusts the reader into the reality of the world of the Hasidim. I learned a lot about their customs and beliefs but mostly I identified with the characters as human beings and their difficult choices which would impact future generations.

This is a fine book. I give it one of my highest recommendations.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 23, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was raised Unitarian Universalist, and I like to think I know a little bit about a lot of different religions, because we studied them in Sunday School. However, I don't know that much about judaism and especially not about hassidic jews. I mean, seeing Fiddler on the Roof every year growing up is about the extent of my knowledge.

So, the world in this book was pretty alien to me. I mean, I love science fiction and I've read books that don't even contain any human beings and these people seem more alien to me. Still, I was riveted to the story. First to keep track, as I realized different lives were intertwining and names were changing, but then because I wanted to find out what was happening next. It's funny how I was so sleepy and wanted to go to bed, but then I thought I'd read just a little bit of the book and ended up yawning for hours but just reading one more page, one more chapter.

The book made me feel a bunch of complicated different emotions - the lives the characters lead and so many of their beliefs are just soooo unlikable to me, but I really felt like someone lifted a curtain on another world and I got to peek in where normally *I* am forbidden.

Anyway, I gave it five stars pretty much based on the fact that it kept me up almost all night reading and then kept me inside for part of a beautiful Saturday as well.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Anouk Markovitis uses generations of characters and an interesting story line to tell us about a population long shrouded in secret, the Hasidic sect called the Satmar.

The story begins when a young boy, Josef Lichtenstein, witnesses the murder of his entire family during World War II. He is left behind, and adopted by a Christian woman, who cares for him until another Hasidic notices who he really is. This man sends Josef off to a seminary in America. Meanwhile, a girl, Mila, sees her parents killed as they run to the Rebbe that they thought could save them. Eventually, Mila moves to Paris with the family who adopts her. This young, adopted girl, Mila, finds peace within her new family and her religion, while her sister finds solace in other, more worldly ways, ways not allowed by the Hasidic religion. The once-close sisters, are separated by these forbidden things.

In short, this book details the strict Hasidic sect, in which many common everyday things are forbidden. It shows the destruction that results from the inner turmoil that many of the characters faced, the turmoil between their strongest desires, the forbidden, and the rule. This struggle affects generations to come.

This is a shocking and moving book. The concise style of the prose adds to the feeling of mystery, by making it somewhat vague in spots.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I am haunted by this novel. The vivid scenes and portrayals of Hassidic Jewish culture would apply to any fundamentalist belief system with impossible caveats, rule twisting and unrelenting literalist interpretations. Strict domination of these rules leads the main character into a conundrum that eventually backfires and traps her into eternal condemnation. Her pathway is gripping and her desperation turns the reader into a witness for her consequences. I didn't feel manipulated, and I still cheer her on. Anyone with the gusto to defy fundamentalism is a hero in my book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2014
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 when writing the characters, background for her novel, etc. A lot of people that choose to leave their original faiths for new faiths can be angry, hurt and willing to "attack" their original faith communities. Anouk does a beautiful job, in this novel, of not following that pattern of behavior. Instead, I felt the book was very educational (especially for someone interested in learning about Orthodox Jewish communities, but with limited knowledge), critical while respectful (key to the success of the book). Personally, I am fascinated with the theologies of all traditions, so I appreciated a lot of the history, actual theology and then the ways in which the author brought it all to life with the novel's actual story line. I thought her method of following two characters (Mila, taking the orthodox route, and Atara leaving the community in an effort to have access to more freedom of thought and study) was brilliant. Both characters made choices that they each felt appropriate for them. Personally, I would have liked to see Atara with a more developed future (i.e. husband, kids, professional success), rather than seeming "damaged" by her leaving the orthodox community, and lonely, thereby showing it IS possible to leave a faith and find new ways of living in all aspects of life. But, at the same, time, yes, leaving such a tight knit community is upsetting and "going it alone" without family is isolating. It's much like leaving one's country of birth and forever after being a "refugee without country." You're rather a pioneer, having to create your own new community with other like minded pioneers. I think that happens with all people who change their faith communities (no longer fitting in the old community, but being too "different" to fit in to new communities). In this way, I would have liked to have had the author share more of Atara's story, rather than the dominant Mila's story. Maybe in the author's next book? Regardless, the author is clearly a very talented, beautiful writer of great skill. The writing style, pacing, story development - were all really well done, and I became quite attached to the characters. Id highly recommend the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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.

The novel begins in Transylvania with the destruction of young Hasidic Jew Mila’s family in the 1940s; she is taken in to be raised as part of the strictly religious Stern family as they escape into France. Mila becomes fast friends with her new “sister” Atara, but while Mila has no problem following the Hasidic lifestyle, Atara begins to rebel as the two grow older. Eventually Atara finds she can no longer endure the ideas of arranged marriage and women’s inferiority, and she disappears just as Mila marries. As time goes on, Mila faces her own crisis of faith as she must deal with an indiscretion that threatens her family for generations to come. The walls that have been built within their shared family must come down in order for it to be saved.

There is heartbreak and joy in equal amounts in I Am Forbidden, and it is easy to see why both young women make their choices. I was very impressed with the fairness with which the Hasidic lifestyle is presented, and I came away with a deeper understanding of both the culture and its women. The writing is lyrical and moving, and I felt completely immersed in the lives of these two beautiful women as they struggled with their decisions. Highly recommended.

Thank you to the Historical Novel Society for providing me with a copy of this novel for review.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2013
This book is written with a pen of a scholar yet it is from a women who was shunned like the character in the book Atara, only when you arrive at the end of the book you see it is indeed a true story, so how in the world could a human be so eloquent and not let her rage and agony show thru? the author and Atara her main charterer, have so much understanding for her tormentor her father mother and family, that forsook her, and told her "she is forbidden" - that she must be god herself! No humane can contain such mastery of hiding your own personal feelings. Instead of raw pain you get historic contest, of the nature of those Satmar beasts in humane flesh. Sacrifice your own child for an imagined god?! a true biblical fantasy that this author writes with her own blood, yet its a simple witness account of true events, how she herself was slaughtered to her family's god. Wow! How could she face such evil done to her, and treat it with such caring tenderness, to tell & explain the side of her enemy who tormented her alive?! How could she describe so eloquently to the reader, what drove them to kill her?! Its as if the ghosts of Auschwitz and Treblinka would be the lawyers of Nazis and Hitler. She articulates Satmar hasidic fervent fantasism in such glowing understanding colors, that educates all about what Stamar is and why they succeed in thriving in the midst on NYC modernity. A classic read for generations to come from the bowls of the devil from non other of a child who was shunned abandoned and lived to tell the story of her life with a dignified loving smile. simply astonishing!
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