is Naomi Alderman's richly told, endearingly evocative tale of two women and the choices they make as they come to terms with their identities in a traditional Orthodox Jewish community. In this groundbreaking debut, Alderman puts her characters to work, forcing them to confront issues of rebellion, isolation, loneliness and self-acceptance in a place where deviating from the norm often results in cold stares and hushed whispers at the kosher butcher shop.
Ronit Krushka is a lapsed Orthodox Jew, who fled the confines of Hendon, England, and her traditional upbringing for a secular lifestyle on Manhattan's Upper West Side. When her father, the community's revered Rabbi passes away, Ronit returns home to retrieve her mother's precious Shabbat candlesticks, and to revisit her troubled past. She reconnects with Esti, a former lover, whose choices have left her unsure and unfulfilled. As Ronit and Esti navigate through the demons of their past, each woman is forced to decide what kind of life she wants to lead, and with whom she wants to share it.
Alderman alternates between a lyrical and familiar style, introducing each chapter with a page of religious commentary that relates directly to the novel. While the commentary is interesting, readers may find themselves skimming it as the plot thickens and these introductions become more like diversions from the story's main message. Still, interruptions aside, Disobedience marks an important debut, and one that extends outside the lives of these characters to personify the struggle between conformity and individualism for everyone who has felt like an outsider. --Gisele Toueg
From Publishers Weekly
Alderman draws on her Orthodox Jewish upbringing and current life in Hendon, England, for her entertaining debut, which won the Orange Prize for New Writers after it was published in the U.K. in March. In writing about the inhabitants of this small, gossipy society, Alderman cleverly uses a slightly sinister, omniscient "we" to represent a community that speaks with one voice, and her descriptions of Orthodox customs are richly embroidered. Alternating with this perspective is the first-person narrative of Ronit Krushka, a woman who has left the community and is now a financial analyst in New York. After the death of her estranged father, a powerful rabbi, Ronit returns to England to mourn her father and to confront her past, including a female lover. But Ronit's shock that an Orthodox lesbian would marry a man rings false, as does her casually condescending attitude toward the community. By the time of the theatrical, unrealistic climax, Ronit's struggle between religious and secular imperatives gets reduced to cliché ("all we have, in the end, are the choices we make"), but Ronit works well as a vehicle for the opinion that even the most alienated New York Judaism is preferable to the English version, where "the Jewish fear of being noticed and the natural British reticence interact." (Sept.)
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