Monday, 8 April 2013

I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

review by Maryom

" I Am Forbidden is a powerful portrayal of family, faith and history which sweeps the reader across continents and generations, from pre-war Transylvania to present-day New York, via Paris and England. Immersive, beautiful, moving, it explores in devastating detail what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law and centuries of tradition collide."

Josef and Mila are both orphaned when their families are killed by Romanian Iron Guard during WW2. They find shelter and an adoptive family with the Sterns, members of an ultra-orthodox sect of Hasidic Jews saved from the Holocaust by an accident of geography and bureaucracy. The system of rules and restrictions that the Sterns live by form the backdrop to the story of these orphans and their own daughter Atara, as they grow to adulthood. Mila and Atara are the same age and the two become very close, but as they grow older their attitude towards the strict rules by which they live differs. Mila takes comfort from the rules and regulations governing her life; Atara fights them, always wanting to know and do things that are forbidden to women.

I'm not sure this is a book I'd have picked up at random from a bookstore or library shelf - but discovering something outside the norm is one of the wonderful things about reviewing books. It was a little difficult to get into the book at first but as the story unfolded I was drawn into it.
I Am Forbidden gives a fascinating glimpse into a culture so very far removed from my own that I can't believe I'd tolerate it for a minute - or that its adherents would tolerate me! It portrays a society in which women have an extraordinarily passive role and are expected merely to keep house and raise children - to never enquire too much about either the strictures and meaning of their own religion or of the happenings and ideas from the outside world. It isn't only women's actions that are controlled in this manner - there are rules surrounding everything from behaviour on the Sabbath to when sex is permitted.
At the heart of the novel is the clash between very intense religious beliefs and personal desires - and the devastating fallout it brings. I liked that attitudes didn't fall easily into for and against groups but were as numerous and individual as the characters concerned. Markovits manages to bring sympathy and understanding to both sides of the question.
A good read if you're looking for something different and thought-provoking.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Vintage
Genre - Adult Literary Fiction

Buy I Am Forbidden from Amazon

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