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The Outside World Hardcover – March 30, 2004

4 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With a sharp and sympathetic eye for the oft neglected and misunderstood worlds of ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Judaism, Mirvis (The Ladies Auxiliary) crafts a compelling narrative that delves into the lives of two families, each struggling with its own insecurities and difficulties. In this second novel, 22-year-old Orthodox Tzippy, born and bred in Jewish Brooklyn and insulated from secular society but secretly curious and eager to experience it, is barraged with meddlesome questions and with a slew of seemingly endless carbon-copy dates intended to facilitate her marriage to a reputable yeshiva boy before she turns into a spinster. Meanwhile, not too far away, Naomi and Joel, Modern Orthodox Jews, are straining to knock some sense into their suddenly ultra-religious son, Bryan (now calling himself by his Hebrew name Baruch), who has morphed from a head-banging, jeans-wearing, girl-chasing jock into a soul-searching, Talmud-studying, black-hat Jew interested only in immersing himself in God's laws and the Torah. When these two formerly separate worlds collide, parents, siblings and spouses must reflect on what their faith means to them and what to do when their beliefs unexpectedly diverge from those of loved ones. At times giddily humorous, at times stirring and sorrowful, Mirvis's insightful novel is packed with convincing detail, from descriptions of yarmulkes (fancifully embroidered or stolid black velvet) to the varieties of wigs worn by married ultra-Orthodox women. The characters' frequent use of distinctively Jewish terms and ideas gives the novel a foreign air, but the universal themes of growing up and choosing a fitting life to lead will resonate with readers of all faiths.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Tzippy Goldman, 22, has sat through too many first dates in Brooklyn hotel lobbies. Her mother has been planning her wedding since she was little, and still she's not married. Hungry for life experience, she wants to go to Israel. At the same time, Bryan Miller is searching for more meaning than his Orthodox Jewish lifestyle and family provide. He changes his name to Baruch and decides to give up plans to attend Columbia University in order to study the Talmud at yeshiva in Jerusalem. The move leads him to become ultra-Orthodox, and to Tzippy. They find that though they love one another deeply, they must constantly seek a balance between tradition, faith, and the outside world. This novel is absorbing and memorable in its presentation of the rhythms of everyday life, the joy of doing, and the need to find one's place in the community. Weddings, Sabbaths, and seders are richly detailed, and the characters, especially the couple and their mothers, are finely drawn. Mirvis writes with compassion and humor about the intersection of life and faith. Readers get a strong sense of this unique world, but the themes are universal.–Susanne Bardelson, Kitsap Regional Library, WA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (March 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400041619
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400041619
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,227,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tova Mirvis is the author of three novels, Visible City, The Outside World and The Ladies Auxiliary which was a national bestseller. Her essays have appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Poets and Writers and Good Housekeeping, and her fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio. She lives outside of Boston with her three children.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Fans of Tova Mirvis's debut novel, "The Ladies Auxiliary," have waited impatiently for "The Outside World," a book about Jewish families in transition. Tzippy Goldman is a woman in her early twenties whose mother pressures her constantly to find a husband and settle down. After suffering through over forty failed dates, Tzippy goes to Israel where, ironically, she meets and falls in love with a man whom she admired as a teenager. The boy whom Tzippy once knew as Bryan Miller has been changed forever by his years of study in Israel. Bryan now wants to be called by his Hebrew name, Baruch, and he is no longer content to be "Modern Orthodox," like his family. He is now a "black hat Jew," following all of the commandments of the Torah to the letter, with no room for compromise. Baruch's parents and sister are uncomfortable with his transformation. They regard him as a self-righteous and condescending young man who no longer even pretends to fit in with their lifestyle.
Mirvis starts off her novel promisingly. She ably describes the many differences among Orthodox Jews that often lead to conflict instead of cooperation and understanding. She also nails the tremendous upheaval that making a lavish wedding causes in a family that cannot afford to pay for such an overdone affair. In addition, Mirvis astutely portrays the friction between parents and children, who often hurt one another without realizing how much pain they are causing.
However, as the book progresses, Mirvis goes off in too many directions. She flits from one troubled character to the next and from one plot line to another, but the various elements do not always mesh.
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Format: Hardcover
I read this book as a satire of Orthodox Jewish Life in America. Everything she writes about it is true, but so exagerated! The author knocks both the Boro Park types and the Modern Orthodox equally. I grew up in a Modern Orthodox world and now live in the "black hat" world, and her descriptions are accurate down the last detail, but highlight the most negative aspects of both communities. The majority of people from both communities are committed to Judaism and to their fellow human, not people merely observing the laws from rote with no feeling or spirit.
There are no "heroes" in this novel. Unlike The Ladies Auxillary, where Batsheva was good and everyone else in Memphis portrayed as bad, in this book, each character epitomizes the worst characteristics of the typical stereotypes: Baruch, the insensitive "nouveau frum" son; Joel, who wants to blend in the outside world; Naomi, the spineless peacemaker; Shayna, who cares only about being accepted; Ilana, the rebel; Tzippy, who has no concept about why we are religious; and of course, Hershel, the typical dreamer on the verge of making it big! Of course I know people like these characters, but Tovah Mirvis has drawn a caricature of them, exagerated to bring out the worst. Just as her religious characters in The Ladies Auxillary are missing the spirit, the passion and the dedication to their religion, with the exception of Naomi and Baruch, these characters live it without any idealism or involvement.
The two communities have different values and priorities, but the differences are exagerated as well. They both keep the same Sabbath and holidays, the same laws between fellow human beings, the same basic Kosher laws, the same marriage laws, etc.
The book is extremely well written, and I have a hard time putting it down. Enjoy the book, just remember not to take seriously this portrayal of Orthodox life!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In response to a previous Orthodox Jewish reviewer, I just have to say that as a young, liberal, modern Orthodox Jew, I enjoyed this novel a great deal. I would be delighted to have my daughter (if I had one) read it. Tova Mirvis obviously knows the Orthodox Jewish world quite well. It's wonderful to read a novel about the world I live in, the details of which few writers truly grasp. It's not a perfect novel; there is a bit of stereotypical characterization, and the plot gets a bit thin at the end. I do quite like the end, though. I would definitely recommend this book. (I also have no clue what that previous reader was referring to when she said this book hinted at inappropriate things. Well, of course the characters have sex; they're married, aren't they? Since when were Jews scared to mention a married couple having sex?)
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Format: Hardcover
I loved this book simply because it captured feelings that I have felt, as an Orthodox Jewish girl in general, and more specifically as one who grew up in a modern Orthodox community like Laurelwood and married someone with a more "ultra-Orthodox" background. Through this book I was able to relive parts of our courtship, engagement, and the early years of our marriage, especially the parts photographs can't capture.
The characters in the book are people that I know. The feelings they feel are real. This is not a book that creates conflict and strife as a literary device as some have hinted, they reflect what those struggling to live Orthodox lives in the modern world actually feel. Each of these characters, though different, experienced feelings that me and others that I know have felt- the desire to fit in in a world where minute distinctions between people are magnified, a yearning for a greater level of spirituality, the desire to fit in with society at large, and the questioning of whether or not God actually cares. Most thinking Orthodox Jews experience this at one point or another.
Tova Mirvis has done a beautiful job of putting my world on paper. If anyone wants insight into the real world of Orthodoxy, this is the book for you.
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