Saloma Miller's Reviews > Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman
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Jul 04, 12

Read in July, 2012, read count: 1

I read this book because I thought I would be able to relate to Ms. Feldman. I, too, left an insular community (in my case Old Order Amish) in which preserving the collective or community was valued over an individual's freedom. I know what it's like to be required to follow the rules blindly, even when these rules contradict one another and any self-respecting person can't help but question them. I know what it feels like to have my education limited in an intentional attempt to keep me ignorant of the choices I had for charting my own life path.

I, too, gravitated towards a college education and eventually graduated from Smith College, but I had to leave my community to be able to do so. Feldman was very resourceful in utilizing the freedoms she did have in moving toward her goal of self-actualization.

I did learn about the Satmar community from reading this book, but I was very bored with the first half (the childhood portion) of "Unorthodox." I understand that her childhood was very boring, but the reader should not be bored in reading about it. Perhaps much of this could have been omitted from her story.

The other thing that strikes me about Feldman's childhood is that a boring and secure childhood is preferable to one filled with abuse, neglect, or uncertainty. Though her parents did not provide for her, her grandparents did. From Feldman's account it seems they did a fairly decent job of providing for her, which I'm not sure she realizes or appreciates. Perhaps these are the kinds of things she will appreciate later in life.

So, given all the parallels between Feldman's life and my own, I was prepared to really enjoy this book. But I really didn't. Even though the book does get less boring when Feldman's struggles begin after her arranged marriage when she is still a teenager, she failed to make me care about her. Yes, of course I have empathy for her in a general way because she is a fellow human, but she didn't make me care about her in a specific way, because I don't feel I got to know her all that well, even after reading a whole book about her. I cared more about her education at Sarah Lawrence College than I did whether people thought she was glamorous or not. She herself seemed distracted from the learning when she wrote: "When the class starts, I can't hear anything the professor is saying because I keep looking down at my legs and smoothing the denim with my fingers." WHO CARES what she was wearing... I want to know what she was LEARNING. I also didn't want to see her take up the nasty habit of smoking by hearing how she pretended she'd been smoking all along, rather than show she was a novice at it. The last photo in the book may as well be a cigarette commercial. Doesn't she realize that smoking is no longer glamorous -- that in fact it has become passe?

The emphasis on clothing and other superficial details seemed to be the "screen" she held between me as the reader and the substance of her story.

Towards the end of the story, her husband, Eli, goes away for a week. Feldman tells herself that if she cannot make it on her own for a week, then she can't make it on her own permanently, but then she doesn't write about the outcome of that week... I would have rejoiced with her if at the end of the week she discovered that she can indeed make it on her own and use that feeling of accomplishment as an inspiration to make the final break. I didn't get that chance.

Overall, I was disappointed with this book... I expected much more. Some people learn what's important in life as they mature. Other people live on a superficial level all their lives. Only time will tell which will be true of Feldman.

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Patsylina There's too much of your own expectations in this book. You learn with her the small signs that rip the secluded life.


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