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Disobedience: A Novel Hardcover – September 5, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Disobedience 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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; First Edition edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743291565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743291569
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 9.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,623,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a person who is interested in the role of faith in the modern world, I found Disobedience to be a captivating and thought provoking story. In chronicling the clash between these two worlds - Ronit's modern one full of unlimited choices and Esti's constrained world of tradition and rules - Alderman refuses to present an easy solution. Instead she uses each women's experiences and perspectives to highlight the tensions involved. She is not afraid to point out the flaws and repercussions of orthodox Judaism but she also paints a loving - to me - portrait of its wisdom. In the same way, she doesn't simply celebrate modernity as a perfect world of choice and freedom.

As a result Disobedience is not just a thought provoking look inside a devout and closed world, it is also a timeless story about living with the consequences of our choices.

Alderman is clearly a talented writer and her portrait of the London Orthodox Community reflects this, but her characterization is a little thin in places. Ronit can come off as simply a caricature at times (busy, successful women whose love life is a mess, etc.) and her rebellion can seem a bit cliche as well. But it is in the contrast between her and Esti that the book gets its impact. It is also worth noting that the perspective you bring to the book is likely to have an impact on how you view the characters. Those sympathetic to orthodoxy or tradition will react differently to those with a more libertarian or libertine perspective. This is another reason I found it so interesting.
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Format: Hardcover
There were many elements to Naomi Alderman's debut novel that I very much enjoyed. Her prose was great, she writes like a veteran whose been doing it for years. I loved how she switched view points throughout the novel so that the reader got a glimpse into the minds of each character. Lastly, I enjoyed how she began each chapter with a thought provoking biblical reference and explanation that was either very relevant to people of all religions or gave the reader insight into the Jewish religion. All of these ingredients came together to make Naomi Alderman an author that I will look out for in the future. However, amongst all this praise there is a downside. 'Disobedience' failed to catch me right away and, in my opinion, in a short novel the story should hook you in the beginning. Also, again, in my opinion, Alderman didn't give the characters enough depth for the reader to really understand what motivated them. I am sure that as a new author Alderman will suss out these flaws and grow with time and I look forward to watching her progress.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This novel is the story of Ronit Krushka, the rebellious 32-year-old daughter of an Orthodox rabbi in Hendon, an insular Jewish neighborhood in London. The death of Ronit's father forces her to come home for a short time from New York and from her nonobservant life style, and it forces her to confront her past and decide exactly who she is and who she wants to be.

Alderman, who grew up in Hendon, succeeds in portraying both the fervently religious lifestyle and the secular lifestyle without exaggerating or caricaturing either. Hendon can be stifling, but it can also enfold its inhabitants in a warm embrace, and for Ronit it is home. New York City is exciting, free, and tolerant, but city dwellers lack roots and lack a firm basis in ethics and morality. (Ronit is the only one of her circle of friends who knows what's in the Ten Commandments!) At the end of the novel, all the main characters seem to be moving away from either extreme and making their peace with a life replete with contradictions.

Another theme is silence and speech. British Jews are doubly silent -- both because they are far more insecure in their place in society than American Jews, and because they are, after all, British and keep a stiff upper lip. Ronit's father was a master of silence, yet in an important lecture, he points out that God created the world with speech. Yet speech, in the form of lashon ha-ra (the Jewish concept of slander or gossip) can be terribly harmful.

Ronit's New York world is a noisy, speech-filled world, yet much of the speech is meaningless or harmful. Esti, Ronit's former lover, is always quiet, so much so that she is considered odd even in the Hendon synagogue. The denouement of the book is a reconciliation of the ideals of speech and of speechlessness.
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Format: Paperback
Amazon seems to have sent this to me by accident. I didn't order it and was inclined to put it aside, but gave it a chance on a whim. I am a writer myself (Mary Doria Russell). Producing six novels has made me a cranky, snarky, picky reader, so I didn't expect to get past the first page. To my delight, I loved every word. No backseat driving, no second-guessing the author, just "This is so good," from start to finish.
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I really loved this story--and especially the theological reflections at the beginning of each chapter. I appreciated the insights into Orthodox Judaism in London and the pull the community continued to have over Ronit, the Lesbian daughter of a beloved Rabbi, as well as over her former lover, Esti, who decides to marry the young, awkward Rabbi, who succeeds Ronit's father. I wish there had been a glossary to explain the many Yiddish and Hebrew words.
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