I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits
Published by: Hogarth Books
Published on: May 8, 2012
Page Count: 320
My Reading Format: Review copy sent to me by the publisher in order to participate in the author’s TLC Book Tour.
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook
Giveaway: As part of this tour, I get to give away a copy of I Am Forbidden. One lucky reader living in either the US or Canada who comments on this post by 5/22 will have a chance to win. Good luck!
Today it is my great pleasure to be Anouk Markovits’ host on her TLC Book Tour. This tour is to celebrate her novel, I Am Forbidden.
I have a lot of fun working as a tour host for TLC Book Tours. They always have great books and authors on tour. Check out their website for more information on this tour and the others that they are hosting.
When a woman is born into a Hasidic Jewish family, there is truly but one acceptable fate open to her. She must marry as well as she can within her community and raise as many children as God sees fit to bestow upon her. She is responsible for keeping her house, food, and, sexually speaking, her husband clean. While this can lead to a beautiful life if a woman is so inclined, anything outside of this box, which can feel as tiny as a phylacteries to some daughters and wives, is unacceptable. Giving into the temptation to want more will make you forbidden. It doesn’t end there. Being from the lineage of a forbidden person makes you forbidden as well. It is within these strict traditions held by the Satmar community that Atara Stern and Mila Heller are born. Although not biologically related, they were raised as sisters after Mila’s parents are killed during World War II. Atara wants to be a good daughter, but she is also excited about learning and longs to explore all that the world offers while Mila longs to be a good Jewish wife and mother. When Mila marries, these best friends and forever sisters are parted in every way.
Until reading I Am Forbidden, I knew little about Hasidic Judaism. What little I did know I learned from television. Although Anouk Markovits left the Hasidic community in which she was raised at a young age, her novel is full of the love she has for her community. There is a beauty in living ones life for one’s faith. Unfortunately, the truth isn’t as black and white as ultra conservative religious sects would like for it to be. It is difficult to live a pure life without doubts or questions. The scenes at the very beginning of the book with Zalman Stern illustrate the seemingly ridiculous lengths people will go to keep from sin. What one has to do in order to remain permitted in this community, however, becomes oppressive when one dares to question to unquestionable and challenge the infallible.
While both men and women can be forbidden, women are in the most precarious position. Not only do they have little say in their futures, but even when women willingly and lovingly enter into a marriage, their position it tenuous. A young woman can scrupulously abide by the stringent and uncomfortably intimate laws of family purity, but if she fails to produce offspring, she can be cast aside with the blessings of the community. After 10 years of infertility, a man is nearly compelled to divorce his wife and remarry in order to live out the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. As an outsider reading this book, there appear to be so many stumbling blocks in the way that it is a wonder that any woman, no matter how dedicated, can shoulder the incredible responsibility of family life and purity in an environment within which she has absolutely no control.
I Am Forbidden is an incredible and addictive read. It took me a short time to adjust to the author’s narrative style, which lays out the story in pieces of varying sizes along the way. Once I caught the rhythm, I couldn’t set the book down for long. As someone unfamiliar with the language and traditions of the Satmar community, I did find the glossary at the back of the book very helpful, especially in the beginning. Markovits also incorporated translations along the way. Regardless of how different my life is from those characters who came urgently alive within the pages of this book, getting caught up in their world felt natural. Had I had the opportunity, I could have read the entire novel in one sitting without a single restless moment or wandering thought. In choosing I Am Forbidden as its premier novel, the newly formed imprint Hogarth has set the bar extremely high. I very highly recommend this novel.