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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 May 2013
After a somewhat slow start, "I Am Forbidden" quickly became a book I simply could not put down.
The Hasidic community is a mysterious world that I knew nothing about, and I was somewhat doubtful about reading the book after a review full of praise in one of the magazines. But after finishing it (with tears in my eyes) I cannot recommend it enough.

After reading "I Am Forbidden", I now know a few things that are indeed forbidden between the ultra orthodox jews, such as picking up a telephone and dialling a number on the day of Sabbath, enjoying sex, having any sort of unjustified fun throughout your life. Even reading a book like this would be simply forbidden, no questions asked. A woman's life if worthless if she is not giving birth to children, one after another. Anouk Markovits gives us glimpses of the never-ending routines that rule the lives of Hasidic families, and I felt both anger and annoyance and sorrow for those people whose life is (somewhat pointlessly) goverened by the ancient laws. If you are considered a sinner, your family can simply erase you from the book of life, from the life of your family, community, and, I imagine as it would happen for a "sinner", the world at large, forbidden person becomes simply non-existent.

There's a love story in this book unfolding before our eyes, jumping through generations and continents, and a hidden drama unfolds parallel to the main love story. There is also a story of two sisters, one of which gives up everything, becomes an outcast whilst pursuing her personal freedom, whilst the other one struggles between her love and religion.

"I Am Forbidden" is a great portrait of family, friendship and fiath. It is moving and beautifully written, and immensely sad.

Also, I was impressed with the choice of a cover for the book - it makes such a profound sense when you reach that point of the book towards the end, when the cover photograph comes to life - great job done by the bookcover designers!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 June 2012
Markovits writes of a Romanian Jewish community during World War II. They are from the Satmar sect and have very strict beliefs and traditions. There are two sets of parents, one trying to flee to safety and another attacked in their home, are murdered by fascists. Left behind are two children, one from each family, each is rescued. The boy is adopted by the family maid. She's a Christian and tries to keep him safe by teaching him to `pass' by adopting Christianity and pretending to be her own child. Though she's misguided she loves him very much. The girl is adopted and raised as a devout Jew by her father's Talmud study partner and bought up with his ever growing family in France.

I found the immersion in this unique culture fascinating but also heartbreaking both because of the World War II atrocities but also because of how unbending and unforgiving the Satmar tradition seems to be. I also found this culture extremely loving and caring. This contradiction is at the heart of the story. I was reminded of Lisa See's "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" for two reasons. See's book is centered on the very insular Chinese culture of the 19th century which also had very strict traditions and expectations for men and women and their respective roles. The second similarity between the stories was the central theme of women's friendships that were formed early and sustained through life's hardships. I feel like I'm walking a tightrope when I say this but neither the Satmar nor the 19th century Chinese traditions were female hating even though they were dominated by male privilege but they did have unflinching expectations.

The orphan, Mila, and her adopted sister, Atara, were of one mind as children but in adulthood their paths forked. Each still held the other dear in her heart. This is the best part of Markovits's book. The women's relationship holds it together and is emotionally affecting. The story is told from various viewpoints and from many time periods but it remains clear. Markovits is an affecting, skilled writer. I didn't like the ending, it felt forced. I loved learning about a culture so different from any I'm familiar with. The contrast between the rigidity of the Satmar culture and the sweetness of the women's love for one another touched me deeply.

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on 18 June 2015
I can only assume that reviews were written by the author him/herself, as the book was really hard to read. The numerous quotes from the Torah kept breaking into the story and contributed nothing unless you are highly religious, which I'm not. I read to about halfway and thought 'why am I labouring through this book, and didn't
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 September 2014
Disturbing and informative
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 24 April 2013
Fascinating book giving an insight into the workings of a Hassidic Jewish family. I did feel that there could have been more written about the independant daughter and how she fared in the non-Jewish world but, on the whole, a really book and would thoroughly recommend it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2013
An enthralling story which was difficult to put down and at the same time deeply upsetting. It's horrendous to think that these events happened to millions of people during that era. We must never allow it to happen again.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2012
I have just finished reading Anouk Markovits' first book to be translated into English - I Am Forbidden. The book traces the history of two girls - Mila and Atara - born into the ultra-Orthdox and virulently anti-Zionist Satmar community in Transylvania before the Second World War.

The Holocaust wiped out much of Transylvania's once substantial Jewish presence and both girls suffer losses during this period.There is reference to Rebbe (Rabbi) Yoel Teitelbaum - a real historical figure who excommunicated anyone with Zionist leanings or even who had contact with any Zionist supporters, yet took a place on the controversial "Kasztner train" that rescued over 1,600 Hungarian Jews from Eichmann's hands, first of all by having them sent to Bergen-Belsen and keeping them away from the other prisoners and then transferring them to Switzerland where they were freed.

Reszo Kasztner was a committed Hungarian Zionist and depending on your view, risked his life to save as many Jews as he possibly could in impossible circumstances and making terrible choices to do so. Anouk's book makes great play of choices, including choices to be truthful or not, to live or not and to stay in the Satmar community or not. Both girls struggle with their own choices as they grow into adulthood and take different paths.

Mila cannot shake off her childhood memory of seeing her mother run towards the Satmar Rebbe as he sat on the edge of an open carriage on the Kasztner train and seeing her shot down and killed before she could reach him. As she grows up she is told the Satmar story that Kasztner was not responsible for rescuing the Rebbe, rather that Hashem was responsible. This also mirrors history when in the 1950's Kasztner took a court case after being accused of collaborating with Eichmann, of making money from his rescue scheme and of only helping Zionist supporters. The accusations were found to be untrue but the slur led to Kasztner being assassinated in Tel Aviv. It is believed he had asked the Satmar Rebbe to testify on his behalf during the trial, but Teitelbaum refused saying that only God had helped him.

Markovits herself is from a Satmar community but left rather than agree to a marriage that she did not want. Born in Paris, she now lives in New York, has published two books and secured a BSc, an MA (architecture)and a PhD (Romance studies)! She gives interesting insights into a little known world, including some of the rules governing relationships between husband and wife, rules of purity and ideas about how much religious learning is suitable for women and girls. Although she left the community, she stills writes with some affection for the individuals and particularly for the women characters who strive to keep the rules as well as to ensure their families are happy and healthy. There is even some sympathy for Mila's husband, Josef who when finding a terrible truth about his daughter cannot bring himself to denounce her and carries a hard secret to his death - despite the shocking denouement which is not revealed until almost the last page!

The story moves quickly and is extremely engaging despite the unfamiliarity of the world it inhabits. I covered the just under 300 pages in two sittings, not wanting to put it down and not wanting it to end. The reader is drawn into this "otherness" which deliberately separates itself from the rest of the world as well as from other Jews. Indeed Satmarim deny the Jewishness of Jews who do not subscribe to their view of the world.

If anyone from London's Jewish Book Week is reading this, please book Anouk Markovits NOW for next year's event and continue the tradition of giving us access to great contemporary (and translated) French writers. My book of the year so far.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 August 2014
What a good read!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 30 October 2013
Really enjoyed this read. Well written and engaging, this was a glimpse into a hidden world. I recommend this highly
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 6 April 2013
Having recently finished Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman I was moved to try this book. As a devout Christian I was interested in the Hasidic faith after running through Williamsburg on course the New York marathon and again when I took part in the Jerusalem marathon. I needed to understand the commitment of the Hasidm to their faith as I have to mine. Their commitment and following of the letter of the law puts me to shame but I think I can practise my faith more freely and certainly my marriage is richer for all the restriction I haven't had to cope with like these women. They have my utmost respect. Thank you for letting me into your lives. I wish you all well. God bless you too
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