“Judith unfastened the clasp of her pearl necklace, Yoel’s present, that she had already chosen as her sign to let him know when she would be permitted. She placed the necklace next to the prayer book and stepped away from the lattice. The women pressing forward to see Zalman Stern jostled her to the back of the gallery. Judith wound her way down the stairs and into the street, between the strollers and mothers. She turned the corner.”
The novel I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits is a mesmerizing look at what it means to be an Hasidic Jew and it’s impact over three generations beginning with WWII. We see in very beautiful prose how being called to be separate from the world can sometimes be a difficult thing, but following the law to it’s very last letter is an impossible thing.
This novel begins with Zalman Stern who is brilliant in his knowledge of the scriptures and zealous in his heart for the Lord. He marries Hannah Leah Shaiovits with whom he begat a daughter, Atara. Through the tumultuous circumstances of the war, he adopts another girl, Mira, and the two girls become very close. But, Atara cannot bear the beating she receives one evening, for riding a bicycle in the Luxembourg gardens on the Sabbath, and thus begins the separation from faith and family in her heart. Eventually she leaves home, willingly leaving the favor bestowed upon her by being obedient.
When Mira marries Josef, a childhood friend who lost his family during the war, they are unable to conceive. She counts her cycles in a private book of days, she visits the doctor, she prays, she takes fertility pills to no avail. Josef, however, will not take tests to determine his fertility. He will not allow his seed to fall in vain as the tests require.
When we take matters into our own hands, force what we want over what is, the results are often disastrous. We can justify our actions, twist scripture to apply to our decisions, as long as we want; once a choice has been made its ramifications cannot be undone.
Mira makes a choice which will affect her life, her husband’s life, and ultimately their offspring’s lives for generations. It caused me to think deeply about what it means to be forbidden, and what it means to be forgiven. For I believe that while God wants us to be obedient, He knows our hearts and fallibilities. He wants us to live under grace, too. This, perhaps, is what Markovits believes as well.
“It was a reading Josef had taught Rachel at the Sabbath table, a reading he later taught Judith and her siblings, how the last letter of the Torah, (lamed), and the first letter, (beth), spelled the word (lev), heart. It was a reading Josef remembered from long ago: Every year, lev, heart, linked the end to the beginning.”
The publishers have graciously offered one copy of this book to be give away. Please leave a comment telling me you wish to be entered in the drawing (U.S. and Canada only, please). Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Hogarth publishers for the opportunity to read and review this novel.
Anouk Markovits was raised in France in a Satmar home, breaking from the fold when she was nineteen to avoid an arranged marriage. She went on to receive a bachelor of science from Columbia University, a master of architecture from Harvard, and a PhD in Romance studies from Cornell. Her first novel, Pur Coton, written in French, was published by Gallimard. I Am Forbidden is her English-language debut. She lives in New York with her husband.