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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A young orthodox Jewess is about to marry a boy she hasn't touched...
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...
Published 17 months ago by Julianne Quaine

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56 of 64 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Proliferation of stereotypes and awkward Yiddish
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...
Published 11 months ago by Frieda


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56 of 64 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Proliferation of stereotypes and awkward Yiddish, March 28, 2014
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. While to the outsider, each child may seem to come as quickly as a single breath, well, that is not how it actually happens. The biological law of the nine month pregnancy applies to religious women too! (Surprise!) So with young Chani Kauffman whose mother had many children “had watched her mother’s stomach inflate and deflate like a bullfrog’s throat” we get probably the worst, inhumane and ridiculous description of the life of a woman who has many children, condensed into one terrible metaphor. A nine month process is described as superficially as the duration of a breath. Are women really getting pregnant and unpregnant as grotesquely as a bullfrogs throat’s dilation? The author expands: “Chani’s mother had become a machine whose parts were grinding and worn… an exhausted mountain of dilapidated flesh, endlessly suckling, soothing, patting or feeding... Her father sowed his seed time and time again in his wife’s worn out womb”. Is this realistically how big families happen, or is this rather overflowing with the condescension of store-bought feminism? I think the latter. Women everywhere work themselves to sheer exhaustion for whatever they value; and the ultra-orthodox women do too. The assumption that this makes them machine like objects without any agency or pleasure is classic narrow-mindedness. All that this description reflects is someone’s snap judgment of large families. It lacks any empathy or insight. In fact, when Chani’s mother is actually seen in action throughout the book she is engaged and warm and not at all 'a machine of dilapidated flesh.'

There are many more such problems, for instance in the way the children experience being stifled (they wonder about bacon; right, because another culture’s diet is REALLY what a curious person would think about) or in the radical, unrealistic way the rebbetzin runs off from the community.

Well. The inaccuracies were actually only the least of my problems with this book. The writing is, to quote its own words “not talking like a mentch!” I have no idea who the hell the Man Booker prize people are, or what their prize is, but I cannot begin to understand how a book like this one can receive an award. The writing tries very hard to be cute, so hard; it distracts from what’s happening in the stories. And the stories are told in chopped up pieces, hopping from one character’s tale to another, giving you a long drawn out piece about Chaim’s interest in Chani's looks, or in Mrs. Levy’s scheme to stop the shidduch, so you lose your tale just when you were maybe (maybe!) starting to get faintly interested in one saga or another. In trying to describe what these characters are like, nothing comes to my mind but their physical characteristics (either great youthful beauty or terrible unsightliness) and their endless kvetching. The characters are so flat, that when you read it you almost see caricatures get pasted in from a crafty handbook of stereotypes. There is very little dialog, all of it stale. (example: “Chany Kaufman, your behavior today was inappropriate at the very least.’ ‘Yes, Mrs. Beranrd,” Chani whispered. “What’s that?” snapped the Deputy Head. “I’m very sorry, Mrs. Bernard.” Etc.)

Lots of things happen because the author tells you it happened (“they grew closer”) not because the scenes are in the book, in over-decorated language riddled with bad metaphors: “her eyes shone with liquid apology” and she walks down the street “her legs pumping like pistons.” Or my favorite “he flamed the colour of chraine.” The pacing is distracting too because of the way the story jumps abruptly from character to character, but worse because you spend so much time with the drawn out descriptive language, nothing happens, and then suddenly it is six months later. Most of all, the appeal of this book seems to lie in its exciting wedding night scene (which isn’t so exciting after all) and this single episode seems to be the book, with three hundred pages of adjectives fluffed around it. In all, I had a hard time getting through it and I would not recommend it.

I actually hesitated to write this review because I really would like to see more work on the fascinating insular culture. I wrote it because I asked myself: should we embrace any work merely because there’s a scarcity? Is inaccurate work better than nothing? Well, to me the answer is no. I don’t think we will encourage quality work that digs deep and tells original, human, colorful stories if we don’t demand higher standards from writers. Just because people are interested in these “strange secluded Jews” doesn’t mean we should let anything fly. It’s up to the readers to read critically and demand the nuance and accuracy that makes a work at once engaging and informative.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A young orthodox Jewess is about to marry a boy she hasn't touched..., September 15, 2013
By 
Julianne Quaine (Canberra ACT Australia) - See all my reviews
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars "She was living under a bell jar.", November 29, 2013
This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman (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. Gelbmann, a shadchan who relishes the inordinate amount of power that she wields. Readers' hearts go out to Chani's mother, a long-suffering matriarch who, at forty-five, has already borne eight daughters and is thoroughly burned out.

Ms. Harris is knowledgeable about the Chasidic lifestyle, and portrays her flawed and troubled characters with understanding, insight, and compassion. Her decision to relate events out of chronological order is initially bewildering. However, it allows us to stand back and consider complex situations from a variety of angles and viewpoints. The author presents the limited options available to young people like Chanie and Baruch. Should they adhere to the accepted laws and customs handed down by their parents or follow a different path that might be more to their liking? Chani wonders, "What was it like to roam freely in the world and not have to think about your every action and its spiritual consequence?" For men and women who find the constraints of a sheltered and choreographed existence limiting, the choice to remain strictly observant is a difficult one. "The Marrying of Chani Kaufman" is a provocative, enlightening, and engrossing book, written with skill and flair, in which the author explores universal themes that will resonate with anyone who has clashed with loved ones, suffered unbearable losses, and has had to make difficult, life-changing decisions.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Just OK, January 12, 2014
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This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman (Paperback)
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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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, July 29, 2013
This is one of the most exciting books I have read in a long time. The author's style is so very different from anything I have read before, which made it refreshing. I personally knew so little about the Jewish religion and had no idea how strict the rules were as regards choosing a partner. At times it was very funny at the predicament the couple were in on their wedding night, with little or no idea of what each other loked like, let alone how to perform what was required of them, but not in a salacious way. Somehow the author managed to portray their efforts in a completely naive and innocent way, which made it so real.
I would assuredly recommend this first book of Eve Harris and look forward to many more from the author.
Ann Yule (Convenor of the Neil Gunn Trust)
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, August 24, 2013
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A glimpse into the ancient Jewish culture, the religion, rites and its place in the modern world. Beautifully written with fascinating and captivating characters. The author has done her research and woven a lovely story which will leave the reader a little wiser.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immersion into a London ultra-orthodox community, October 18, 2013
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
The two opening chapters, set in November 2008, show ultra-orthodox Judaism in some of its most inhibiting manifestations: in the first, Chani Kaufman and Baruch Levy, aged 20 and 19, are about to be married. They have scarcely known each other; neither of them had as much as touched the other; each is ignorant and terrified of what lay ahead of them on their wedding night. In the second chapter, Rivka, the 44 year old wife of Rabbi Chaim Zilberman, has a miscarriage and Chaim is lamed while he tries to decide between the two Laws, one forbidding contact with a woman who is bleeding, another saying that the saving of life is imperative; and when the ambulance arrives, he is distressed that her hair is uncovered.

And more inhibitions continue for much of the rest of the book as it darts backwards (and then forwards again) for the events leading up to the wedding and the miscarriage. Yes, most of the characters in the book experience spiritual rewards in the rituals - and in fact, whereas Chani and Baruch had been born into ultra-orthodoxy, the Rabbi and his wife had not: aged 23 and 18 respectively, they had been drawn to it and had voluntarily embraced it back in the early 1980s. But now, a quarter of a century on, the Rebbetzin found the orthodoxy stifling and formalistic; her husband had become harsh and intolerant; and "the drug of spiritual bliss had worn off and she had little appetite for the next fix".

What is the author's attitude towards all this? There is humour in many of her descriptions: sometimes it is indulgent; sometimes compassionate; quite often mocking, especially in her portrayal of Baruch's wealthy and snobbish mother (one of the delights of the book is how the spirited young Chani stands up to her), and of the ghastly Mrs Gelbmann, the professional shadchan (match-maker). And at times Eve Harris seems really angry, when she describes how lives have been blighted. So some orthodox readers will be hostile, while secular readers who have not known anything about this life-style may be intrigued and possibly repelled by it.

The book is full of atmosphere and very well written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I would love to know one day what are in fact the ..., September 10, 2014
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I would love to know one day what are in fact the criteria for shortlisting books for Man Booker Prize. Probably, the main interest is that it addresses a subject regarding the religious Jews. However, the knowledge of this world is limited, although it refers to one religious group it extends the information for 'orthodox Jews' in general and it results in confusions and inadequate attributions. The writing is also clumsy, with stories that either don't end or are completely lost during the narrative.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling story, poorly executed, August 13, 2013
By 
Allie (Sydney, NSW Australia) - See all my reviews
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There is no question that this book contains a compelling story. Told from the perspective of a rotating series of characters, we hear from people whose voices are all too rarely heard in contemporary fiction. Unfortunately, many of these characters -- particularly Mrs. Levy, the titular character's mother-in-law -- are depicted in such an over-the-top way that they come across as parodies or caricatures, which makes it difficult to relate to them as real people. Reinforcing this is the fact that characters in this book do not simply speak; they gabble, purr, trill, enthuse, and yelp -- and on one memorable occasion, the aforementioned Mrs. Levy even "sizzles" and "twinkles" lines of dialogue. I'm all for unique, memorable uses of language, but this is synonym overload, and distracts enormously from the narrative. Combined with the heavy use of adjectives and metaphors, by the end of the book I felt as uncomfortably full as if I'd just downed an box of matzoh and chased it with an entire bottle of Manischewitz. A puzzling inclusion on the Booker longlist, to be sure.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The idea of the novel was good, and there were many interesting insights, October 10, 2014
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The idea of the novel was good,and there were many interesting insights.However,the story jumped around a great deal,and in many cases there was poor editing of the material
The conclusion of the novel was very anti climactic,and disappointing.
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The Marrying of Chani Kaufman
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris (Paperback - August 1, 2013)
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