Monday, June 4, 2012

I Am Forbidden: Review and Giveaway

Before reading this book, I associated Transylvania with Bram Stoker's horror novel and film, Dracula, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  It's time I revised my associations.

Published in 2012, I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits is a novel about four generations of a Satmar family. Written in the present tense, the book depicts a world unknown to the majority of us, the world of Hasidic Jews. According to Wikipedia, Satmar Hasidism is a movement of mostly Hungarian and Romanian Hasidic Jewish Holocaust survivors and their descendants, founded and led by the late Hungarian-born Grand Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum (1887–1979).

I Am Forbidden begins right before the onset of World War II, in 1939, in Transylvania, Romania.  The book also takes place in Paris, then in Manhattan, and finishes in present day Williamsburg, Brooklyn (which has a large Satmar community); chapters provide the various locations so the book is easy to follow. At the beginning of the story, two young, Jewish children from different families, Josef Lichenstein and Mila Heller, become orphans at the hands of the Romanian Iron Guard and the Nazis, respectively.  Josef (renamed Anghel by his new, Christian mother, Florina), is five years older than Mila, and he helps her get to the home of Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community; then Josef (or Anghel) and Mila separate (they'll reunite later, in a different manner).

The Sterns send Josef to school to study the Torah, and take Mila in as their daughter when she arrives at their doorstep, exhausted.  They have another daughter, Atara, who is almost a year younger than Mila, as well as other children. Atara and Mila are expected to help care for the younger children in the family, which will train the girls for their future careers as mothers.  Zalman is protective and strict with the girls, and on one occasion uses his belt to punish them with severity when they break the Sabbath by taking an exhilarating bike ride on this holy day. This episode in the book is haunting.

"Every morning, the girls' eyes shone when they opened their cahiers d'école, notebooks with pages white, smooth, ruled and cross-ruled by pale blue lines.  They dipped their new pens into the glass inkwell, how lovely it was to trace, meticulously, the new French words, the ascenders and descenders."
~Anouk Markovits, I Am Forbidden

In Paris, Atara and Mila enjoy school, and are eager learners.  As the girls mature, they remain close, but their beliefs become quite divergent.  Mila lives her life with a strict adherence to Satmar beliefs, and her deepest desire is to marry a son of Torah and raise a "pure" Jewish family. Atara, Zalman and Hannah's biological daughter, is restive and rebellious, drawn to the world of books and learning.  She has aspirations which go beyond an arranged marriage and children, but this is not acceptable in a Satmar house; in fact, like much else, it is forbidden. 

I Am Forbidden brought me to tears a few times (the first instance was due to little Pearela's fate).  It's a touching, inside look at an insular Hasidic sect, and its extreme effects on people.  On the one hand this religious sect provides a reassuring structure; on the other hand, it demolishes many important freedoms. With honesty and clarity, this book explores the possible dangers and consequences of leading a life with so many rigid restrictions.  Life in this sect is devoid of personal freedom and choice, particularly for women.  Author Anouk Markovits was raised in France in a Satmar home, but left when she was nineteen to avoid an arranged marriage, and to pursue more education. She relies on her background to bring to life the vivid and touching plights of various characters who struggle with their beliefs and because of their beliefs.  As I read this novel I became fully invested in the characters, especially Mila and Atara.  I look forward to reading more work by Anouk Markovits.

Excellent news! Hogarth, a new imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, is offering a copy of I Am Forbidden as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only) to a lucky reader.

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. 

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, June 25.  One lucky winner will be randomly selected and announced on Tuesday, June 26.  Good luck!

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book.  For more reviews please visit the other stops on TLC's I Am Forbidden book blog tour.

25 comments:

  1. Of course no need to consider me for a give-away as I've read this myself. What a powerful novel! I SO agree with this line of yours in particular: "On the one hand this religious sect provides a reassuring structure; on the other hand, it demolishes many important freedoms." In many ways, I consider it to be just what religion isn't supposed to be: unforgiving. That's the very reason I love Christ, because He loves me flawed that I am. Great review, Suko.

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  2. No need to enter me, as I've already read the book. I'm glad to see you really "enjoyed it." I agree about little Pearela; after reading that part, I seriously questioned whether I could continue reading. I'm glad I did though because I was blown away by the depth of this story.

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  3. I'm really intrigued by this book and would love the opportunity to read it. Thanks for the giveaway!

    I'm a follower via GFC.
    Tweeted: https://twitter.com/RedTulips2012/status/209734993105264640

    Wendy
    wendysfictionaddiction(at)gmail(dot)com

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  4. This fascinating book beckons me since I am Jewish and it would be a memorable novel. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

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  5. I would treasure this book very much. it is meaningful, profound and relates to life and many of the character names are in our family. thanks for this chance. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  6. I kept reading so many rave reviews of this book that I managed to get myself a copy to read. I think I have to be in the right mood though.

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  7. This sounds like it sheds light on a different time and place in history and on religion. Even more so since the author has experienced this way of life herself. I enjoyed your review Suko.

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  8. Great review! Sounds very interesting.

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  9. This sounds like a really good book!

    -follower and RSS feed subscriber
    -tweeted,shared on facebook and pinned on giveaways board

    Margaret
    singitm(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  10. This sounds like a great book, but not sure I could read a story like this right now:(

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  11. This sounds like a very powerful, emotional story and one that I see has received many good reviews. It always bothers me that in a restrictive society it is almost always the women who are made to suffer. While not the type of book I usually reach for, on occasion I do get in the mood for something a little heavier.

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  12. Very interesting book, which give us the chance to enter an unknown (for me) world.

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  13. I would love to read I am Forbidden. It seems like it would be a book you'd have to set aside to read, not something you can read while the tv is going. I'm reading great reviews about it and hope to win a copy...seems like a thoughtful deep read. Thanks for the giveaway and the review.

    Laura Kay
    anovelreview(@)yahoo(.)com

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  14. I'm a follower of your blog.

    Laura Kay
    anovelreview(@)yahoo(.)com

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  15. I tweeted about the giveaway

    https://twitter.com/anovelreview1/status/210773636058066946

    Laura Kay
    anovelreview(@)yahoo(.)com

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  16. I have this book on my shelf to read and am really excited that so many people cared so much about the book. It looks like Hogarth Press is off to a great start, and I look forward to reading this one.

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  17. Sounds fascinating and I would love to read it!

    JHS
    Colloquium

    jhsmail at comcast dot net

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  18. I have been interested in reading this book since the first review I read about it. A fascinating culture to be sure. This is why I love books...the whole world and all of its infinite aspects are ready to be discovered!

    cochrane_susie@yahoo.ca

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  19. Thanks for the review, I love books on different cultures and would love to read this one.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

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  20. I follow by google reader as Marjorie/cenya2

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

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  21. I'm a Jewish Orthodox woman who understands this main character very well, since I lived in Boro Park most off my life with the Satmar people and know their rules and regulations.

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  22. I've been hearing amazing things about this book - I can't wait to read it myself!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

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  23. I’m nоt that much of a inteгnet readеr to be honest but
    your blogs really nіce, keep іt up!
    I'll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back later. All the best
    My blog Terry Sawyer

    ReplyDelete

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