by Deborah Feldman
I won this book from goodreads first reads program. Thank you GoodReads.com, I love you. See, it is easy for me to love someone, just supply me with books. 🙂
Anyway, this memoir is about Deborah, growing up in the Satmar district in Brooklyn, NY. Her father is mentally disabled and her mother left her father when Deborah was young, leaving the community completely and leaving Deborah to be raised by her grandparents. Her aunt doesn’t live with her, but makes the parental decisions for Deborah without providing any emotional support. Deborah doesn’t like her very much. Basically the family has quite a few issues as does Deborah. She is guilt ridden, is emotionally stunted and is very self-conscious. She also really wants to find a place to fit in.
She is a reader, and curious about everything. She doesn’t follow all of the rules of the rabbi and her community as she isn’t supposed to speak or read in English or go to the library, but she does. She reads a lot, hiding her books under her mattress and this causes her to question and wonder about life outside of her religion. The book itself is about her growing up and you see the progression of this little girl who is trying to fit in, until she is married, trying to make it work. She tries to be good, but she never feels content, desired or that she belonged or believed. Only while she is getting ready for her marriage, buying her things for her “new life” does she feel happy. We get glimpses of the people in her life, but they move in and out of the narrative quickly, without fully giving us a picture of anyone besides Deborah.
It is well-written, interesting, fascinating at times and a ultimately triumphant. I think she would be an interesting person to chat with. The details of her life, and the life of the Satmars are interesting to contemplate and when you realize how little information and resources she had outside the community, it is amazing she was able to leave, though not a lot of details are provided about how that came about. I really feel for the people who are so isolated from the rest of society, for many reasons which Deborah goes into after she is married, most of which could be cleared up with a little information sharing!! Instead everything, at least from her point of view, is a big, scary mystery. Though, I need to remember that Deborah obviously wasn’t that close to any adult women who could help clear up and explain the facts of life to her. She had to struggle through and figure things out on her own and she hints that other women in her community do as well.
Unorthodox is a very interesting memoir of a woman who felt as though she didn’t fit into the life or the community she was born into, a woman who had the strength and fortitude to believe in herself to overcome her obstacles to become her own independent and happy woman and mother. I really enjoyed and flew through the second half of the book, beginning when Deborah’s family arranges her marriage. Though the parts of her childhood were interesting but I found that my mind wandered a little. Additionally, a lot of the sensational tidbits about the isolated community were quick little blips in the narrative, and though they were horrifying, I was much more affected by issues she spent a little more time developing.
This is one woman’s story. It is not a comprehensive look into the Satmar sect nor into the Orthodox way of life. I think she was raised in a specific circumstance and she is doing what she feels is best for her and her son. Having said that, it is still an interesting peak into what that life might be like for some. I am going to pass this book on to friends and family, 3.5 stars.