Teresa Lukey's Reviews > I am Forbidden

I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits
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's review
May 08, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: audiobook, 4-stars, didn-t-see-that-coming, fiction, i-learned-something, jewish-history, made-me-cry, omg
Read from June 12 to 15, 2012

I Am Forbidden follows three-generations of a Hasidic Jewish family. Starting in Romania under the Iron Guard movement and finishing in the Satmar Hasidic community established in Williamsburg, New York. Hasidism is a strict religion rooted in the Torah. Their day-to-day lives are lived based on the interpretation of this book and everything is done in such a fashion to ensure that all family members in the same blood line have a place by the messiah's side. There are many activities deemed forbidden in Hasidism and if someone within the religion does something out of line with the laws of the religion, they become forbidden, unable to marry or have any sort of life within the religion.

At the start of the story we are introduced to Josef, who was hiding when his family was killed by members of the Iron Guard, Romania's anti-Semitic death squad. He is found by the family's gentile housemaid and she takes him in as her own. Five years after Josef rescue, he helps Mila, a young girl who has recently witnessed her family's death at the hand of the Iron Guard, escape from countryside by train. Later, Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community learns of Josef, who is the only living son of a prominent family murdered by the Iron Guard and retrieves him from the woman who has taken him as her own son.

Josef has a difficult time fitting back in to the Hasidic lifestyle after being taken in by the Stern family, who has previously taken in Mila, the girl Josef previously rescued. Mila proves to be a comfort to Josef while he tries to adjust to his changed life, but he is quickly sent away to live in the Satmar community in Williamsburg. The years go by and Mila continues to live with the Stern family in Paris, being raised as a sister to their eldest daughter, Atara, while Josef is raised as a highly accomplished Torah scholar.

Atara and Mila are close, but Atara gets a taste of books, which are forbidden. Although Mila is devoted to the religion, Atara decides she wants more from her life and she steals away in the middle of the night. Mila receives a marriage proposal from Josef in America. Mila is thrilled by the marriage proposal and leaves Paris to wed Josef. Josef and Mila are devoted to each other and I really got a strong sense of this while reading about their life together and through their attempts to have children.

This is where the story gets bound up in this severe religion, which could be the demise of the bloodline and the families ability to go on to be with the Messiah. Mila eventually goes on to have Rachael, and she proves to be a devote to the religion as her father Josef. When Rachael's daughter, Judith, is old enough to wed, secrets are revealed that cause tragedy.

Although I cannot imagine being involved in such a strict way of life, this story is presented in such a way that I felt I connected with the Satmar's way of life as if I was completely understanding of the reasoning. Although this is ultimately a sad story, there is beauty in the love and dedication these people have for their beliefs. Previous to this book, I had no knowledge of the Iron Guard. I had not previously realized that Romania, too, was involved in the Holocaust. This story would have received a 5-star rating had it not been for the disjointedness I felt during a couple of periods where the author skipped through time very quickly. If you are interested in understanding more about Hasidism, this is an excellent choice.
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Reading Progress

50.0% "So many rules in Hasidism. It's almost painful for me and I'm only reading about life in this strict religion."
12/27/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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switterbug (Betsey) I won this book from a lottery, but have been hesitant to read it. I was raised a Jew (thankfully not Hasidic!), and it is scary to see the dark side of your own people!

Great review.

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