Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Rootsby Deborah Feldman
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“A brave, riveting account... Unorthodox is harrowing, yet triumphant.”
“An unprecedented view into a Hasidic community that few outsiders ever experience.”
— Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Eloquent, appealing, and just emotional enough... No doubt girls all over Brooklyn are buying this book, hiding it under their mattresses, reading it after lights out—and contemplating, perhaps for the first time, their own escape.”
— The Huffington Post
From the back of the book:
Unorthodox is the bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman’s escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Carolyn Jessop’s Escape, featuring a new epilogue by the author.
As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. Yet in spite of her repressive upbringing, Deborah grew into an independent-minded young woman whose stolen moments reading about the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott helped her to imagine an alternative way of life among the skyscrapers of Manhattan.
Trapped as a teenager in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew, the tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until she gave birth at nineteen and realized that, regardless of the obstacles, she would have to forge a path—for herself and her son—to happiness and freedom.
This was a fascinating insight into a community that, growing up in New York, I really only saw from a distance. It was interesting to hear that about a community living in modern day America continues to oppress and control its female members with the justification of righteousness and holiness. There is no doubting the strength of character inherent in the author who managed to escape this commnunity.
My disappointment in this book is that although the memories and stories were interesting, it all felt a bit dry. I don't think a ghost writer would have been appropriate given that the author's first-hand account does add poignancy to the book, but the storytelling wasn't exactly riveting for me, especially some of the earlier chapters.
I also wanted to hear more about the actual struggles the author had with escaping this oppressive life in a very close-knit community. What I can imagine in reality was a very difficult leaving process filled with mixed emotions seemed to be glossed over in the book. 'He wanted a divorce. I said yes. I left.' It was an abrupt ending that may have been due to the fact that this was written very soon after she left the Hasidic community, but the epilogue only provided a vague update when a couple chapters addressing how her grandparents reacted and her explanations to her very young son would have finished the story for me.
Most of the members in the book club really enjoyed the book and it made for great discussion, but we generally agreed regarding the ending.