Sweeping from the Central European countryside just before World War II to Paris to contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I Am Forbidden brings to life four generations of one Satmar family.
Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Gentile maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. As the two girls mature, Mila’s faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live.
When the two girls come of age, Mila marries within the faith, while Atara continues to question fundamentalist doctrine. The different choices the two sisters makes force them apart until a dangerous secret threatens to banish them from the only community they’ve ever known.
A beautifully crafted, emotionally gripping story of what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law, and centuries of tradition collide, I Am Forbidden announces the arrival of an extraordinarily gifted new voice and opens a startling window on a world long closed to most of us, until now.
About Anouk Markovits
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.
French-raised Markovits’ English-language debut opens in Manhattan in 2005 with the meeting of two women: Atara, who, like the author, fled her Hasidic family to avoid an arranged marriage; and Judith, the granddaughter of Atara’s adopted sister, burdened by a cataclysmic secret. Then the clock turns back to Transylvania in 1939, where Josef witnesses the murder of his family and is taken in by a Catholic farmer, and Mila is saved by Josef when her parents are murdered too. Rabbi Stern later rescues Josef and sends him to the U.S. while taking Mila into his own family. Stern’s daughter Atara starts to question her father’s beliefs and expectations, including limited education for women, and also researches a dark episode of Holocaust history involving Mila’s parents and a revered Hasidic rabbi whose escape from Europe may have come at a very high price. When Mila and Josef marry, Atara abandons her family and disappears. The years pass but Mila doesn’t conceive. Finally, when she does, desperate choices have been made by both husband and wife. Decades later, matters come full circle as Judith and Atara choose what matters most. – Kirkus Reviews
Sisters Joined by Tumult, Grown Apart in Time
The New York Times Book Review – May 15, 2012 (Excerpt)
Anouk Markovits was raised a Hasidic Jew in France, but at 19 she fled her community to avoid an arranged marriage. She went on to get a master’s degree in architecture and a Ph.D. in romance studies. “I Am Forbidden,” her first novel in English, centers on two Hasidic sisters: one who leaves, and one who stays, shunning modernity. Given the author’s background, you might assume that this is a story about how one of them is wrecked by her choice.
But the wonder of this elegant, enthralling novel is the beauty Ms. Markovits unearths in the Hasidic community she takes us into. She remains largely nonjudgmental about the most difficult-to-grasp practices of the Satmar sect, while showing how even the most fervent believers struggle with the letter-of-the-law faith.
The involved plot, sweeping across four generations, opens in Transylvania, along the Hungarian-Romanian border, just before World War II. A 5-year-old boy named Josef plays with his little sister, Pearela. He’s just crawled under a table after her and whacked his head when he hears heavy boots clomp into the house. He sees his sister stabbed with a pitchfork. He hears his mother’s screams in the yard, and then it is quiet. [Read the full article...]
Lost Between Scripture and Self
The Los Angeles Review of Books – July 31, 2012 (Excerpt)
IN CONSIDERING A NOVEL or memoir that emerges from an insular culture, the outsider is inevitably tempted to discuss the depicted community as much, if not more than, the success of that depiction. Using the work as a tool for understanding the world from which it comes, the errant reviewer relates to it not as a work of art but as an archeological or anthropological report. In this way, the novel points to the community’s eating habits; in this way to how they prayed; here, to how they slept; here, to how they slept with each other. In some instances though, the fact that such a novel exists is more compelling than the novel itself, and the reader’s emotional satisfaction falls short of his or her voyeuristic fulfillment.
This, unfortunately, is the case for ex-Satmar-Hasidic Anouk Markovits’s I Am Forbidden, one of the inaugural novels of Hogarth, Random House’s latest fiction imprint, and one of a triad of books by formerly Hasidic women to be published by major houses in the last two years. (The other two are Hush, a devastating young adult novel about childhood sexual abuse published under the pseudonym Eishes Chayil [“Woman of Valor”] by Judy Brown, and Deborah Feldman’s New York Times-bestselling memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.) Ex-Orthodox women’s literature is becoming an unlikely subgenre of its own, but the quality of the writing is not quite keeping pace with its popularity. [Read the full article...]
THE SABRINA STRONG SERIES by LORELEI BELL