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Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots [Kindle Edition]

Deborah Feldman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)

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Kindle Edition £7.03  
Hardcover £16.99  
Paperback £9.45  
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Book Description

The instant New York Times bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman’s escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Carolyn Jessop’s Escape, featuring a new epilogue by the author.

As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. It was stolen moments spent with the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott that helped her to imagine an alternative way of life. Trapped as a teenager in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew, the tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until she gave birth at nineteen and realized that, for the sake of herself and her son, she had to escape.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unbearable: Life in a religious straitjacket 29 Mar. 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book and managed to read it over two days (gone are the days when I was young, free and childless enough to complete it in a single day). I have given it 4 stars, because I think 3 were not enough but I think 3 1/2 would be closer to the mark - call me a pedant if you like! I am very well versed in reading books written by young women (usually, but not exclusively, Muslim) who escape from unsatisfactory lives due to abuse or overly strict familial interpretation of religion or a combination of both, so for me the genre was more of the same but the ethnic background (in this case Hasidic Jewish) was a refreshing change from that which I am used to.

Deborah describes her Satmar Hasidic Jewish upbringing in Williamsburg, New York City. Her mother had left her in circumstances which are not completely made clear to her until later life, and her father wafts in and out of her life owing to him being unable to care for Deborah as he suffers from enduring mental health problems. She is brought up by her unemotional grandparents who are survivors of the holocaust, and her upbringing is strict - no TV, radio, no books other than those she studies at school, and little interaction with others outside of her family and certainly not with the wider community outside the Satmar neighbourhood where she lives.

However Deborah has a mind that cannot be constrained by the limitations of her faith and from an early age she finds herself mentally questioning some of the tenets of Judaism.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read 15 Mar. 2013
This book gives the reader great insight into the Hasidic community and their culture. I was struck by the parallels between the Hasidic and Muslim cultures in the repression of women, even down to the concept of covering up. I don't see much difference between the hijab and the wigs and dowdy clothes these women are forced to wear. The notion that a woman's place in life is to produce children and serve her man is so antiquated and made me feel so lucky to have been born into a secular society where equality and freedom is a right that is not dictated by my sex.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars glimpses into a different world 29 April 2013
By C. W.
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I expected to learn something about women’s lives in such an orthodox community and was not disappointed. The author does not only focus on herself but also includes other women and the different ways they chose to live or simply were pushed into. The concept of "purity" is all over the place and defines everything. This is a great read for anyone interested in social history and ethnology and I am sure there are many similarities to be found in other closely-nit segregate communities of whatever origin.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly scandalous 31 Jan. 2014
This is a very insightful memoir that raises mixed feelings. It is written with passion and portrays the way of life of the Hasidic Satmar community in New York in ways that I did not know before. It also gives one a better understanding of Hasidim Judaism not only in America, but in Israel and Eastern Europe where it originated. I did further research after reading this novel, so I applaud it for piquing my curiosity. This book might not be considered by some people as a masterpiece, but it certainly is the best I have read so far on the subject. Like Disciples of Fortune, it touched an aspect of Judaism many people are hazy about, or even consider mysterious. I hope books like this come out telling the word about other mysterious sects and practices found in the different religions. The world needs it, especially in our times.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting subject made boring by author 21 Dec. 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book should have been engrossing. But the author's experiences of growing up in a horribly dysfunctional family, then being married off to an equally dysfunctional man within the same secretive, repressive community seem to have left her with frozen feelings. At least, that was the impression I had. There was much theorizing and reminiscence, but it was all strangely unemotional, as if written about someone else, not the author. Perhaps she has had to repress so many feelings that only anger and fear have remained. Surely there were some happier moments to remember? Nobody's childhood is all dire. But perhaps it was really as bad as she describes, in which case I'm deeply sorry for her, but she keeps the reader at such a distance that one can't feel truly empathic.

The most interesting part was her decision to leave, but this was hurried and sketchy, perhaps because - as other reviewers have noted - she's already writing a sequel. Still, I think she cheated her readers here. She says she wants to encourage other young women from repressive communities to make a break for freedom, but she gives no guidance as to how they might do this. She says she sold her jewelry, but you need more than that to survive without a job in New York, let alone to travel across the USA as she says she did. How did she earn her living? Americans are strangely reticent when it comes to writing about money, although they're extremely frank about sex! If I were a young Hassidic woman reading this, I'd want more advice and some concrete examples to help me. I don't think the American welfare system supports single mothers very well, so how did she survive?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars See American Reviews - Doubts over Truthfulness
Firstly, I found it a good read but one sided and a little immature. I know a little about the Satmar community and I live near Stamford Hill where many live - Feldman's depiction... Read more
Published 13 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read - unputdownable
I'm really enjoying reading this, following reading a number of other novels about Orthodox Jewish life and how some people have a re-think about their upbringing.
Published 1 month ago by minouche1
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fantastic thanks
Published 2 months ago by Rachel Joseph
2.0 out of 5 stars Meh.
Lost interest about a third in; started to seem more like a list of kosher recipes...
Published 2 months ago by divide by zero
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Interesting reading
Published 2 months ago by B. D. Stoller
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
half way through it and have learnt so much already!!
Published 3 months ago by sarahm
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
A very interesting account of how Deborah gradually realises that the Hasidic lifestyle is not for her and slowly and surely engineers her escape to a more normal life.
Published 4 months ago by Mrs. T. E. Tyson
4.0 out of 5 stars INTERESTING BOOK
good reAD
Published 4 months ago by madeleinemoz
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended.
Very interesting book and well written. Great insight into this very extreme sect of Judism. Recommended.
Published 5 months ago by Baroness Orczy
1.0 out of 5 stars didn't like it at all
didn't like it at all. Tedious, self indulgent book, too long, repeating same old story for new readers who don't know it. Read more
Published 7 months ago by ms jay
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