Raised under the strict laws of a Jerusalem haredi sect, Dina Reich enters an arranged marriage but is tempted by another man, a transgression that brands her an adulteress and results in her exile to America. Reissue. PW.
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NAOMI RAGEN is the author of eight novels, including several international bestsellers, and her weekly email columns on life in the Middle East are read by thousands of subscribers worldwide. An American, she has lived in Jerusalem for the past forty years and was voted one of the three most popular authors in Israel. Her books include Sotah, The Ghost of Hannah Mendes, and The Covenant.
Naomi Ragen currently resides in Jerusalem. Naomi Ragen was born in 1943.
i so loved this book. i was torn between savoring it and devouring it. (the latter won. it's impossible to put down.) i have not enjoyed a book this much in quite a long time and cannot stop thinking about it. despite what some reviews here have said, i found that (most of) the characters were very nuanced, especially dina, who is lovable and good, infuriating and yet understandable. simply from the title and the synopsis on the back, i knew what was coming; and yet i just kept hoping she wouldn't hurt judah. (i loved judah!) ragen provides a glimpse into a world that most of us will never experience. whether or not that world is entirely accurate ... it's not a piece of investigative journalism. it's a novel. and while it is based on an ultra-religious neighborhood and community, with many of its practices and customs included, it's a novel. kurtzman is a literary figure. the haredi men who harass women on the no. 40 bus are quite real. i wish there were more books like this - i was so sad when it ended, but so happy to have read it.
Interesting storyline, mediocre execution Jun 10, 2008
This book was pretty interesting. I picked it up because I wanted to learn more about the life of ultra-orthodox Jewish women. Although I am Jewish, their lives could not be more different from mine. Naomi Ragen, the author, is Orthodox herself and seemed very knowledgeable about the community.
The book centers on Dinah, the second daughter of a family of modest means. In the ultra-orthodox community, girls' go through arranged marriages in their late teens. The best "catches" among the men are talmudic scholars. Thus, a lucky woman has to work very hard supporting herself, her husband, and her inevitably large family (due to lack of birth control). These "catches" also expect a large dowry from the bride's family - often an apartment, perhaps a car, and a contribution to income. To an outsider it is a miserable existence.
Dinah, who is very pretty, eventually marries after the disappointment about being turned down by her first choice because her family was not wealthy. The man she married was not a scholar, but a successful carpenter/business man who could support her. Dinah was dissatsfied and disappointed by her low status. She was also very lonely and possibly had Post Partum Depression. Eventually she starts an inappropriate relationship with a man. When she is found out she is banished to New York. Eventually Dinah redeems herself. In the meantime, her perspective on the lives of Americans outside of her ultra-Orthodox bubble is amusing.
The storyline is interesting as is the subject matter. Unfortunately, Ragen is not a great writer. Her characters felt a little flat to me. However, the storyline and the intersting information about the ultra-Orthodox community compensate for the weak writing.
mediochre melodramatic soap opera May 22, 2008
First this book is about 200 pages too long. The story should have centered on the conflict presented to Dina rather than involving the romances, marriages and goings on of her sisters. Ragen's novel, The Ghost Of Hannah Mendez is much better. I bought this book because of the average 4&1/2 star review. Normally, I prefer to rely on customer reviews when more than 25 but preferrably 50 have been filed. I did not follow my own rule in selecting this book. I almost stopped reading it several times. The first 170 pages are boring. However, I continued on recalling the excellent customer reviews. I know women who will read and lavish praise on novels with Jewish subject matter just because of the subject matter. It almost guarantees an audience. I am not one of those readers. There are far better choices for your reading time. This is mediochre chic lit that isn't even a page turner. However,it is a tear jerker.
Nevertheless, the novel does expose the conflict between the secular and the ultra-religious Jews. It highlights a fact that I've long observed. Strict adherence to Jewish law and ritual observance does not neccessarily make one either a good Jew, a good person, or honest. These extreme groups are fundamentalist in nature. They are cults. Extremity in any belief is usually troublesome and backward. I have personally been stared at in Mea Sherim because my western dress was not sufficiently modest. I don't know that the divorce rate which is extremely low in this community would be lower if their marriages were not arranged. Some residents throw stones at cars that dare to drive through their streets on the Sabbath. The police barricade the Mea Sherim streets on the Jewish sabbath so no unsuspecting person makes the mistake of driving down their streets during the forbidden hours. It was no different than when the men and women in a mosque in Jerusalem started screaming at me for some violation of their observance. To this day I do not know what I did that was so objectionable. I simply left. These fundamentalist sects stiffle imagination, creativity, and curiosity. There are so many decent careers,information,pastimes and enjoyment forbidden to them. However, for a better critical review of the Hasidic society in the states read Postville. It is a true story written by a Jewish journalist about a town in Iowa which is the setting for a kosher butchering business.
The ultra orthodox women are second class citizens as they are in most such sects. I do not know if the morals police really exist or not pursuant to an earlier review. However, even if they were symbolic and represented other forms of coercion and punishment, the symbol is appropriate. The threat of eviction from the sect is the ever present method of forcing compliance to ridiculous rules. Homosexuals are evicted. Women who want a secular education particularly a professional education are evicted. Like in every community some of the people are nice, good, and decent people and others are not. Still they do not maim or kill civilians for revenge or to obtain more material possessions. It is a terrible sin to kill except in self-defence. No one will force an unalligned person to conform to their way of thinking. However, once you do and are accepted within the fold, look out. They can make it hard for a person to leave or change their mind. Dina, the protagonist in the book was born into the sect. However, when she strayed just a little, the morals police hounded her until she attempted suicide. After a stay in a U.S. mental hospital she was able to oppose their absurd punishment ritual and reclaim her life.
Further, the ultraorthodox refuse to serve in the Israeli army. They are entilted to receive and do receive stipends based on the size of their families from the secular Jewish community for "keeping the faith". However, they do not practice birth control and have very large families which the secular industrious Israelis must support with their own hard work. Even if a man has a mediochre intellect, he is expected to study full time. His wife is expected to care for the house, the many children, and earn a living to supplement the subsidy. This is a sore point for secular Israelis and is illustrated by Chaya Leah's boyfriend who rebels against his hasidic sect and joins the army.
very easy read and very good book Jan 12, 2008
Informative about life in the religious Jewish community in Israel. I chose the book for a book group and all 5 of us enjoyed the book.
ALMOST really great Dec 11, 2006
I found this book to be exhilarating, fascinating and enlightening as well as moving and compelling. Though somewhat predictable and stereotypical, I found myself caught up in the plight of the characters and the injustice of the protagonist's life. I appreciated the opportunity to become enmeshed in the world of the Hasidim and Israeli life. And it is very much like becoming a temporary member of their world. One finds oneself thinking all sorts of things whilst reading the book such as: what would a life feel like that was completely structured, no questions asked, no decisions to be made, everything fully dpre-determined? And how does such a life compare with the complexities, moral dilemmas and confusions in the lives of those of us who pride ourselves and freedom of expression and decision? In this novel, the characters lead a life of structure and predestination. And I must admit, there were moments in which I felt a sense of envy at its relative ease. Overall, of course, one realizes that the freedoms forfeited are best left in tact. I found some of the characters flat and lifeless and way too 'all good guy" or "all bad guy". In that way the book was too simplistic. But overall I loved the plot and the fun of being in a new world, if even for a short while.