I Am Forbidden: A Novel

I Am Forbidden - Anouk Markovits This is a disturbing book. Once I started listening to the audiobook, excellently narrated by Rosalyn Landor, I could do nothing else but listen to more and more ......and more still, until I reached the end! If I am to set the star rating by how urgent it was to read the book once I started, it would get five stars. But I am not giving it five stars, only four. I had to listen because I was so disturbed. I had to listen because in the beginning it was confusing. I even had to listen to the first hour and half twice.

To know if you want to read this book you must have a general idea of its themes. It deals with Hasidism, particularly the Satmar sect of Jews living in Transylvania. It deals with women who want children, very, very much and cannot get pregnant. How and why can infertility destroy a relationship? It deals with to what degree do you follow rules e-x-a-c-t-l-y, and who has the right to bend the rules and who cannot? Hasidism, should it be criticized for being strict and inflexible, or is it the people who slavishly implement the rules that are to be criticized. Judaism is known for being a religion open to discussion and debate, but what about in the Satmar sect? The story begins in the 1930s near the Hungarian / Romanian border. Clearly, another theme is the Jewish situation in this area during WW2, and specifically the guilt versus innocence of Rezso Kasztner (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rezso_Kasztner) and how the Satmar Jews viewed Zionism. Kasztner was a Zionist. Related to Kasztner is the theme whom do you choose to save? Is it the number that counts? The question expands as the novel continues. Do you do it at any cost? And when do you save yourself? None of these are easy questions. Do you understand why I could not stop listening?

BTW, I found Kasztner's Train: The True Story of an Unknown Hero of the Holocaust confusing, so I cannot recommend it.

One complaint that I had initially was that only the harshness and destructive qualities of the Hasidic beliefs seemed to be depicted. As I continued through the book the author also showed wonderful traditions of the Satmar Jews. There are songs and rituals filled with happiness and delight. The view became balanced.

The sentences, if sometimes ambiguous and even confusing at points, were also very often beautiful. Jewish expressions and French lines are thrown in. The French is usually translated, but less often the Jewish expressions. I mentioned above the theme related to how rules can restrict and thus make you crazy for freedom. Atara opened the door to the Parisian street:

In the shivery Parisian dawn a swell of poppies swayed, each blossom a scarlet freedom quivering on its fragile stem. (end of book two)

Isn't that pretty? There are many such lines.

I have not told you why the book is disturbing. It is sad to watch what people do to each other. It is hard to watch what life throws in our path. Did I want a happier ending? No, this ends on a good note that is realistic too. This is not a fairy tale novel. To really understand you have to read the book, see how the plot unfolds and concludes.

Please see the book description; I did not want to repeat what is mentioned there.