Publishing year: 2013
This is such an interesting book!!!
There is not real action, but I’m really learning so much about a culture I really didn’t have any idea about. It is about a nineteen-year-old girl, Chani, who has grown in an Orthodox community in London, and now she is to marry Baruch. It is fascinating to see this world and culture, isolated from the life that surrounds them. Women and men are segregated and are not allowed to touch. Women wear longs skirts, long sleeves, and tights even in the summer, and married women are not allowed to show their own hair, wearing wigs instead. And their marriages are virtually arranged; Chani has only met Baruch a few times; he is a stranger, and now she is both excited and scared. Excited because that’s what she has been raised to do all her life, and scared because she will be living with a man she doesn’t know. She doesn’t even know what to expect from her wedding night; she hardly knows what a naked man looks like since even the drawings in her schoolbooks from naked statues or paintings were censored with white stickers.
Chani is a curious and vivacious girl, and she is eager to know, and this vivacity has prevented her from finding a husband till now. I know I find this alien and strange because I haven’t been raised in it. I’d horrified to have to marry a man and live with him after meeting him just a bunch of times. I would find the whole ordeal a real sacrifice. And letting that very stranger touch you… well, I guess that if you are willing to become that man’s wife, it can’t be so bad after all. In any case, people also sleep together without love, just physical attraction, and I understand that women and men here are not forced to marry, but they are free to accept or refuse their suitors, so it is their choice in the end.
The book also tells the story of the Rebbetzin, the Rabbi’s wife. She and her husband have now become distant since she had a miscarriage a few months ago. Then we learn about her story with her husband. She met Chaim in Jerusalem when she was there in her gap year. Rebecca, as she was known then, was a daughter of Polish refugees, and her faith had weakened. She was not a practising Jew, but the experiences she was living there were touching her. Chaim was also there trying to find himself and his faith. They became lovers, and little by little Chaim started to accept the Jewish faith fully and adopt its rules and customs. Then one day he refused to sleep with her and asked her to marry him, and it’s obvious that in the end she accepted, but at first she told him she had to think about it. Rebecca led a secularized life, enjoying the pleasures of modern life, and Chaim was the same. Changing all that for a life full of restraints shows a real commitment; I think their example is more praiseworthy than those who were born and raised in this faith and community. They left everything for their faith, choosing God and this religion and lifestyle.
I’m loving the book as it shows the ups and downs of these characters, their doubts, their faith and beliefs, their society, and their fears.