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I read widely and in most genres but romance and westerns. Here you'll find my reviews since 2007, with a few reviews of previously read books as well.


In 2012, I completed an "authors of the world" challenge, reading a book for every country (and a few other entities) by someone who'd lived there for at least two years. I expect to tag these books by challenge and country in the near future. I'm still refining my list by adding books that better meet my challenge criteria.

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots - Deborah Feldman I didn't grow up in a Hasidic community, though I've worked with a mixed range of Orthodox/Hasidic groups, so I'm not unfamiliar with these cultures, nor do I exoticize them. I've had experiences that accord with Feldman's depictions of some practices (such as keeping information about sexually transmitted diseases from adolescents) and the way stories spreads through the teen girl rumor mill, which is often more concerned with shocked and disapproving titillation than with accuracy. I've experienced questioning of my living arrangements, devaluing of my own expression of Judaism, intrusions on my personal life, and work requirements that posed moral dilemmas for me. I did hand-expurgate copies of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich when I was directed to do so. And I did make the decision to risk my job in order to tell teenagers how they could and could not get AIDS, because some of their beliefs were wildly inaccurate, hurtfully homophobic, and based on the assumption that the larger community worked actively to harm Jews. (For example, I was told earnestly and more than once that gay gentile waiters hate Jews because they recognize that the Haredim are better than the goyim, so they spit on their salads in restaurants in order to give them AIDS.) I also experienced more welcome, solidarity, and kindness than Feldman describes receiving, despite my being worse than an outsider--from their perspective, I was an apostate Jew, one who had lived in Israel, who spoke Hebrew, who was an enticement for good children to slide into the world of assimilationist Judaism, an unmarried woman who could have been a bridge to sin and chaos. And that's without them even knowing about the lesbianism, Patti Smith albums, and shrimp.The way I read Feldman is different from many reviewers, who are focused on the questions of veracity and how the author represents the Satmar community. Being familiar with and not entranced by it, my interest and attention is drawn elsewhere. Stripped of what I might think of as the distractions of evaluating family timeline and cultural truths, instead reading this simply as a personal narrative, I see a person with pervasive distress, suspicion of others' motives, a deep lack of trust, extreme sensitivity to disapproval, and the gnawing fear that she is inadequate. Feldman describes a no-win world, where others fail to value or cherish her so she preemptively denigrates them. She consistently compares herself to other people and finds them wanting, while secretly worrying that she is the odd one out. She can't attach with them emotionally and frequently describes herself as empty, hollow, alienated, or otherwise disconnected. When one desire is fulfilled, another takes its place, perpetuating the grinding failure to hold onto happiness. I agree with some of Feldman's cultural critiques and her sense of being constrained, but the problem this memoir describes goes far beyond that. For the first third of the book, her descriptions of herself and others so aggrandized her and belittled others that I assumed that the structural twist, the book's emotional hinge, would be the story of how she learned to balance a brash and self-centered adolescence with the maturity of adulthood, how she rejected or made peace with aspects of her upbringing and religion, and how she recognized her own and others' humanity. However, this is not that story. This is the story of someone who depicts herself as judgmental and cruel as if this were justified, clever, or a way to join with the reader, and as a person who attracts (or automatically ascribes to others) judgment and cruelty directed toward her. From her perspective, she is simply surrounded by mean people. She describes herself as lying, deceiving, hiding, manipulating, and then feeling contempt for others when they take her at her word. This is a lonely position and puts me in mind of Laing's The Divided Self. From the reader's perspective, Feldman is harshly insulting and critical of others, unable to describe them empathically or to see them as people who might ever have good intentions or altruistic motives, or who might even care for her. I don't know what may have happened in her life to put her in this state, but at the end of the book, despite a vaguely described flight from Brooklyn and the Judaism of her upbringing, she doesn't appear to have gained liberation from her own more pervasive demons. This is a memoir of despair that may not know its own causes, or comprehend how it depicts Feldman to the reader. In this regard it's painful and embarrassing to read. I feel great compassion and concern for her, though she might see this as a reviewer's ploy rather than as a real feeling.