I Am Forbidden: A Novel by Anouk Markovits
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Those who read The Chosen will find some similarities here: there's a scholar prodigy, gematria, questioning of long-held beliefs, and the transition of a Hasidic group from Eastern Europe to America. However, here the author assumes a better knowledge and understanding about Hassidism and Judaism than I suspect most people will have. For example, Hasids originally opposed the formation of the State of Israel and were anti-Zionism. That's not so say there isn't some explanation (eg, complete immersion three times in the mikvah cleanses your soul, or Jewish beliefs in what happens after death) but I'm not sure it's enough.
The conflict with the beliefs that sends Atara away from her family is shown, but in a weird way: we see her reading "forbidden books", questioning Midrash and commentary, hearing that she might have an arranged marriage and leaving home - but there's nothing about her for the next nearly 100 pages and 47 years! How Mila and Atara's family deal with her absence is only revealed in the last 30 pages. It's also within those last 30 pages that all the major plot twist gets resolved, but in such a way that readers might be confused as to the religious issues.
Those in the NYC area, with the Satmar populations of Williamsburg, Kirias Joel and Monsey nearby will find this an interesting look into that closed world. The dynastic issues are not covered, as this book focuses mostly on the world of the women.
ARC provided by publisher.