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The Marrying of Chani Kaufman Paperback – April 1, 2014


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Harris takes readers into the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in London. It is 2008, and 19-year-old Chani Kaufman is about to marry Baruch, a young man whom she has seen only four times. As she stands uncomfortably in the wedding dress used by her mother and her older sisters, she is nervous about what the future holds, especially since her knowledge of the physical aspects of marriage is lacking. Using flashbacks to tell the story of this arranged courtship, Harris contrasts the story of Chani and Baruch with that of Rabbi Chaim Zilberman and his wife, Rebecca, who met at a university in Israel and became observant as adults. While Chani and Baruch begin life together as a couple, Chaim and Rebecca are struggling to maintain a viable marriage. The book introduces readers to a little-known way of life and asks us to consider the role of faith and family in today’s world. Anyone interested in relationships will enjoy this fascinating take on the subject; in fact, Jane Austen fans will find much that is familiar in the well-developed characters and the social conventions they must navigate. --Barbara Bibel

Review

Longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize
An Amazon Best Book of the Month (Literature/Fiction)
A B&N Discover Great New Writers Selection


"Like a surgeon cutting into human flesh for the first time, Eve Harris audaciously dissects a community defined by inscrutable social mores; her profound reverence for her characters in no way hinders her intrepid plunge into the murky viscera of this complex world. Readers will be mesmerized by Harris's unforgettable voice; this powerful debut novel is a startling and effervescent contribution to a canon much in need of enrichment.”—Deborah Feldman, author of Unorthodox and Exodus

“A restrictive, claustrophobic world emerges from the pages of this astonishingly impressive first novel. Yet, there is tenderness and compassion too which irradiates the struggles of the various characters as they negotiate their way through the demands of religion, duty and personal desire. Terrific.”—Elizabeth Buchan, bestselling author of Consider the Lily

“Eve Harris’s remarkable debut novel offers access to [a] hermetic realm. . . . Harris—born to Israeli-Polish parents in London—focuses on the separate plights of two women and captivates us with her compassionate character studies and gripping set pieces. . . .Harris renders her characters multifaceted by fleshing out faults and finely orchestrating emotions. . . . Harris also keeps us rapt by altering her tone and imbuing scenes with rich humor. . . . The Marrying of Chani Kaufman shines a light on a topic and a people rarely seen in fiction.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Eve Harris spent years teaching at an Orthodox girls’ school, and is clearly intimately familiar with the social nuances of that culture. . . . she gives readers a fresh perspective on an obscure community, depicting its humanity in both its beauty and its flaws. With its keen tongue-in-cheek observational humor and classic love story format, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman reads like an Orthodox Pride and Prejudice with fearless, witty Chani taking the lead as a spunky, Jewish Elizabeth Bennett. This stunning debut, which was deservedly nominated for the Man Booker Prize in England, is a rewardingly delightful read.”—Bust

“Simultaneously relatable and unfamiliar. . . . [Chani] is a deep and wonderful character with whom the reader can’t help but connect. She lives in a world that might be unfamiliar to most, but with the help of a writer of great ability like Eve Harris, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman is the type of novel that ventures into an unfamiliar place with the ease of a seasoned traveler.”—Flavorwire (book of the week)

"Harris writes of this closed world with knowledge and understanding, and highly observant, slightly acidic humour. Deservedly longlisted for the Man Booker."—The Times (UK)

“Engages from the very first page, slipping the reader deep into the orthodox Jewish community, beyond the rituals and prayers, the constraints and the hair-covering wigs, into the secrets and emotions beneath, illuminating the story of Chani’s journey from schoolgirl to bride and revealing the lives of others around her besides. This novel is beautifully done and highly recommended.”—Daily Mail

"One of those books you cannot put down . . . Some of the women (the story is mostly told from a female perspective), could have been created by Jane Austen or Mrs Gaskell. . . . Eve Harris looks but does not judge. . . . an optimistic, compassionate story."—Sunday Express

“Compassionate and witty . . . The Marrying Of Chani Kaufman is about more than an innocent girl in a rigorously controlled community hoping for a soul mate while being paraded before husband material (Jane Austen has done that already). At the heart of the book is the theme of identity and the glue that fastens us to communities, be they religious, racial or social. . . . [It has] the emotional and thematic complexity needed to raise the story to a Booker contender.”—Independent

“The serious subject at its core – the semi-arranged marriage of two young Haredi Jews – is belied by the warmth of the writing. There are demons here, but they do not terrify. . . . Humour abounds, but so do pathos and anger. . . . Harris's eye for suburban social mores is wickedly acute, as is her evident relish in describing both the sensual life and its absence. . . . Has the potential to be that rare thing – a crowd-pleaser about Orthodox Judaism.”—Guardian

"The book introduces readers to a little-known way of life and asks us to consider the role of faith and family in today’s world. Anyone interested in relationships will enjoy this fascinating take on the subject; in fact, Jane Austen fans will find much that is familiar in the well-developed characters and the social conventions they must navigate."—Booklist

“Intelligent, revealing characters who command conviction and connection; the tug between the old ways and modern life; and the universal themes of desire, guilt, manipulation and submission will resonate with readers from all backgrounds. Harris’ debut is as deeply melodic and exciting as her depiction of Shabbat in Jerusalem, and will linger after the last page.”—Publishers Weekly

"Not just love and tradition, but rules and expectations shape the relationships of two couples from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, in a British novelist’s engaging debut. . . . A readable, compassionate portrait of roles, especially women’s, in a Haredi community."—Kirkus Reviews

"Harris evokes the community’s insular nature, she also suggests the sense of comfort and belonging that it confers, offering a sympathetic window on a way of life little glimpsed in contemporary fiction."—Financial Times

"Confidently done, a romantic comedy at ease with its own lightness. Its setting, northwest London's ultra-orthodox Jewish community, is small and devoutly separate, and reading about such enclosure is pleasantly consuming. . . . Harris is humorous and clement throughout with her characters."—Sunday Times

“Depict[s] the claustrophobic anxieties of a young heroine locked within a powerful family hinterland. . . Readers seeking genuine Jewish characters have no need to search for the latent beneath the manifest here. . . . [The Marrying of Chani Kaufman] has received the British literary establishment’s seal of approval. It deserves it.”—Jewish Chronicle

"Judaism may be the setting but Eve touches on universal themes. It's about being true to ourselves when even our closest friends seem at odds with our chosen lifestyle. It's about forging a set of values when everything around us, locally and globally, seems to encourage the antithesis. It's about being human. It's about being alive and I adored it."—The Bookbag

“[The Marrying of Chani Kafuman] is set in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Hendon and Golders Green . . . The chapters shift from Chani’s point of view to that of her equally anxious betrothed, Baruch, as well as his best friend who is secretly dating a shiksa, and his mother Rivka, the rabbi’s wife who is supposed to prepare Chani for marriage but is herself grappling with the religious way of life.”—Haaretz

"Harris is tender and sympathetic as she reveals the intricacies of acceptable behaviour and anathema in this group of Orthodox families. This lively and thought provoking novel makes a significant contribution to the contemporary literary scene."—The Bay

"A lovely, very funny and touching account of a marriage in orthodox Jewry."—Spectator

“A wonderful novel, which grips you from the first sentence and holds you until the last. Like Zadie Smith’s NW, this book is set in contemporary North London, but it has much more in common with the work of Jane Austen. The main preoccupation of the novel is marriage.”—WeLoveThisBook.com
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat (April 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802122736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802122735
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Frieda on March 28, 2014
Format: Paperback
I should begin my review by saying two things about my own interest in this book: 1. I grew up ultra-orthodox and 2. I left ultra-orthodoxy at 25.

The book is a compilation of several fictional stories about a few individuals in the ultra-orthodox community. The stories are unoriginal; about a couple meeting through a shidduch, a meddlesome mother in law, a young yeshiva boy who has an affair with a black girl and a middle-aged woman who runs off from the community. The stories are cut up in chapters that skip between the different stories, so all stories span the length of the book. But most of the book actually reads like a long long long introduction to the climax: the salacious wedding night scene between Chani Kaufman and her groom. The author clearly loves to write about the going-ons between couples. I regret to say however, that except for the final chapters, the couples’ going-ons are rather uneventful.

The people in the book seem mostly stifled, uninspired, obsessed with Hashem and repressed by the religious society.

My own experiences make me very open to criticism of the ultra-orthodox community. I have nothing against books that reflect the problems which are in plain view or hidden, but at the same time I am very in tune with nuance of the culture. It is very frustrating and grating to read a book that is full of giant inaccuracies. Not inaccuracies of ritual, but inaccuracies of the cultural essence, the characters and the spirit of the people. So my problem with this fairly negative book is not that it is negative, but that the negativities are often inaccurate.

For example:

The ultra-orthodox women have many children.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Julianne Quaine on September 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book, long-listed for the Booker prize but not short-listed, relates the difficulties of being an orthodox Jew in present day western society. Set in London a 19 year old girl Chani is about to marry a boy she hardly knows, and whom she has never touched, while the Rabbi's wife Revka, who is teaching her about being a good Jewish wife, is struggling to maintain her own faith. While the novel focuses on the impact of faith on women and their lives: the prospect of many children and lost educational opportunities, there is a side story of Revka's son who falls in love with a goy and his struggle with his orthodox life as a result. The novel moves along at a fast pace and is very readable. For me it was a good introduction to the world of Orthodox Jews, many of whom I saw when I visited Jerusalem.
One annoying thing about the kindle edition is that there is no link between the Yiddish words and the glossary making it tiresome to look them up. If a kindle edition is created, it should use such features!
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 29, 2013
Format: Paperback
In "The Marrying of Chani Kaufman," Eve Harris discloses the secrets of a Chasidic community in Golders Green, London, focusing on the tribulations of three families: the Kaufmans, Levys, and Zilbermans. The Kaufmans have eight daughters, one of whom, nineteen-year-old Chani, is seeking an intelligent, animated, and good-natured husband. The Levys, a well-to-do couple, want only the best for their son, Baruch, and plan to settle for nothing less. The Zilbermans are facing a major crisis. Rabbi Zilberman's wife, Rivka, is no longer a contented spouse, mother, and homemaker; she is restless, edgy, and depressed. Adding to the tension is the fact that one of her sons, Avromi, a university student, is acting strangely. He is secretive, stays out late, and avoids telling his family where he has been.

Harris goes back and forth in time, creating a well-rounded portrait of a community whose members prize tradition, virtue, and spirituality. If anyone deviates from prescribed standards of behavior--by dressing immodestly, showing too much interest in secular matters, or flouting religious law--he or she risks censure or, in some cases, ostracism. However, the author indicates that many Chasidim have a great deal to be grateful for: particularly the support of relatives, friends, and neighbors and the peace of mind that comes from knowing one's place in the world. The cast includes the young and not-so-young, the experienced and naïve, the affluent and those struggling to get by. We observe Chani Kaufman navigating the dating scene with anticipation as well as trepidation. We also meet Baruch Levy, a twenty-year-old who fears that he is not ready to shoulder the responsibilities that marriage entails. Manipulating the matchmaking strings is the smug and calculating Mrs.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Pamela on January 12, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had high expectations for this novel, because I am fascinated by the Hasidic community, and because it was nominated for the Man Booker prize, but this ended up being pretty mediocre. The story alternates between several characters, with different chapters dedicated to different story lines. I am never terribly fond of this method of narration because I tend to get sucked into one character's life just as the novel abruptly switches to another perspective. (I have the same problem with Game of Thrones.)
The first few chapters are riveting, but the various story lines become more tedious thereafter, especially Chani's, since I didn't really care how much her pushy Mother-in-law objected to the union. The other plots, about the rabbi's wife who hates living in a fish bowl and a college student who gets a non-religious girlfriend, would have worked much better if they explored the psychological depth of those predicaments, rather than just the surface emotions of frustration and guilt. The writing itself is is workaday, meaning it gets the job done but its isn't good enough to keep a dull story interesting. I found myself skimming to get to the end.
I do want to note that some reviewers mention how the novel gives insight into the Jewish religion and customs, but of course the ultra orthodox represent a small percentage of Jews in total, and their interpretations of the religion are far from universal to all Jews. That said, the book does do a good job portraying British Hasidic life.
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