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It seems some members of London's Orthodox Jewish community didn't like The Marrying of Chani Kaufman. I'm guessing they weren't meant to.

This is a (mostly) very funny novel that is, literally, about the marriage of Chani Kaufman to her approved fiancé Baruch Levy. Chani is excited about the wedding but in fear of the wedding night. She has led a sheltered life, the daughter of a Rabbi in a strict Orthodox community. No television; no boys; no trendy clothes; no university.

The novel then pans back and we see how Chani came to be getting married; we see into the lives of her family and the Levys; we see into the life of Baruch's best friend Avromi and his family - and his father just happens to be the rabbi who is going to officiate at Chani and Baruch's wedding.

What we find does not make for happy reading. There are layers of ritual - depicted by Eve Harris as pointless and even damaging. There is denial of reality. There is hypocrisy. And overwhelmingly, there is sweet food. Life is a constant and arduous preparation for the Sabbath, the day the Jewish community will be busily resting. Everything is a constant rush to be ready for the start of Sabbath, the moment at which all tools must be downed, all activities ceased, and everyone will have fun. Yes, through gritted teeth, they *will* have fun.

Eve Harris portrays a community leading dull lives, plenty of privations, and generally levels of tat and decay. Plus very sweet food. Nothing seems to be new and shiny apart from the honey glaze on assorted cakes. Even the wealthy Levys seem to have a Spartan quality to their palatal, leather-suited living spaces. There is an eternal feel to their world. This, of course, turns out to be a bit of a sham. It seems that many of the ultra-pious couples are denying their own children the fun that they themselves had enjoyed in more debauched times. Like in the story of Isaac, they are willing to sacrifice their children on the altar of a guilty past.

The story is not unfamiliar. Fans of Fiddler on the Roof will recognise many of the set plays. What sets The Marrying of Chani Kaufman apart is the wit. Eve Harris has a talent for pithy one liners; piercingly sarcastic lines and put downs. Obviously, Ms Harris has a particular viewpoint that colours everything she writes, but she does it so well. Her characters may seem to be cartoony stereotypes, but they are endearing and thoughtful. They are allowed conflicting emotions, frailties. And there are real questions posed by this racial group that chooses a life of isolation and separation from mainstream society. Would London be as accommodating if it were a different religious or racial group seeking to live in such an enclave?
22 comments56 of 61 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 31 August 2014
Above all, an excellent read, with believable characters leading believable lives and with whom you sympathised. So good to read a book that is not based on the chase for money, fame and Prince Charming - unlike the standard chicklit heroine ending up with the rich, handsome rockstar. It reminded me of Vickram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy'. I can see why some of the Jewish readers would dislike the book and it does seem rather ambitious for an outsider to write about a very private community, but I thought that Eve Harris did a good job of sharing the spirituality and sense of community with the readers as well as detailing some of the less appealing aspects. I should say, less appealing to those of us who stand outside them; I imagine that all cultures have elements that appear unpleasant to others. There is certainly plenty to despise in today's 'free' world. So, in the end, a well written, fascinating and thought-provoking book.
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on 26 July 2015
This book gets five stars and a review as it is one of the first “good books” that I have read for some time other than the classics. The story is well balanced, the characters believable and I liked the ending with its conflicting hope and sadness as one marriage begins and another seems to end.

The story revolves around marriage and how a couple (of whatever sort) work to make a long term relationship work. The central character Chani is at the beginning of her particular journey and faces a wide range of fears not least the fear of sex, about which she knows very little. The story is told from the perspective of a fundamental Jewish background, however, the issues are similar to those faced by many young people from a range of communities – the steps to adulthood are frightening even if they are not contemplating an arranged marriage.

Around the story of Chani and her marriage there is another story about the Rabi’s wife who is preparing her to be a good Jewish wife. I found this element particularly moving, although the first few chapters were a little confusing as the Rabi and his wife enter the story as another young couple. It is well worth reading through any confusion and I really enjoyed both elements of the story.

Some reviewers have commented that they didn’t like the ending. I actually feel that it is the right ending for this book. It is not obvious or over played and in my opinion is handled with finesse and sympathy for each of the characters involved.
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on 7 December 2015
This book was given to me as a Chanukah/Christmas present. I know nothing about the author as a "person", but she clearly is one of the diaspora Jews who intensely dislike the Charedim. Since I am a "goya" (i.e.female gentile) I have no axe to grind. But I did find her "description" of ultra-orthodox life offensive. For those who know nothing about orthodox Judaism, I would point out (from personal experience) that her descriptions are, as the Americans say," out in left field"!!! There are many branches of Charedim - all are not the same. The author treats them all as identical. Eve Harris writes well despite the fact that the format she has chosen (jumping back and forth from country to country and year to year) is "kitsch". The appendix to this book is a joke. It is headlined as Yiddish-English Glossary. Sorry readers, the author doesn't know the difference between Hebrew and Yiddish. Additionally, there is a throw-away sentence in which there is the implication that these Charedim are "Lubavitchers" - I assure you from long association with Lubavitcher Judaism, her characters are not even remotely related to the Lubavitcher Movement in Orthodox Judaism.
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on 6 January 2015
I lived for a number of years in the70's and 80's in Golders Green. I would see all the families, the men, the women and the children at different times walking through the town. I knew various Jewish families, and got on well with them (and still do)! I never saw any looking dirty or disheveled, but they were/are their own community. I loved the book, because it reminded me of when I lived there, but I can quite understand how those the book depicts are unhappy with it.
There was a taste of character but so much more was needed. Perhaps this couldn't be done because Eve is not a part of that community. No community likes to think anyone outside could think they are wrong in their beliefs, practices and lifestyles, but equally no community however wonderful is perfect. We are merely man, not G-d.
Read it, it's a great holiday read! Believe it - with a large pinch of salt. It is after all a book of fiction! It gives taste and shallow insight, and perhaps will lead people to find out more.
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on 19 August 2013
Enjoyed it but not as good as all the hype around it wish there had been one more chapter felt like it just stopped!
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on 24 February 2015
I write this review sort of as a rebuttal to all the Orthodox Jews who wrote negative reviews, those who allege the writer did not know what she was talking about.

Well, I beg to differ. Kudos to Eve Harris for exposing the truth! I used to be orthodox from myself, and I encountered Charedi people that were exactly like the characters in a book. Itbis these types of people who distort the beauty of Jewish heritage, turning it into simething scary.

There should have been more chapters to explain the outcomes of all the characters. I also found it a bit disruptive thatbi would finish a chapter about one person, only to have to start a new chapter about a completely different character.

This book is well written. I enjoyed it and reading this book made me angry because most it is so accurate.
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on 2 November 2014
The marriage in the title scaffolds this novel about the interwoven lives of Orthodox Jews in London. Eve Harris has created characters that I felt I knew and understood, then placed them in a world hemmed in with rules and restrictions, some prescribed by scripture, but others self-imposed.

Some reviews have concentrated on factual errors but this is a work of fiction and for me, it worked very well. The story moves back and forward through time and this is handled flawlessly. The uncertainties of the young couple are convincingly portrayed, but it is the rabbi's wife, the Rebbetzin, whose story really grips. The scene where her husband has to choose between supporting his wife and obeying the rules of his faith is one of the most powerful I have read in a long time.
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on 31 December 2015
I don't know enough about the different strands of Judaism to make an educated comment about the portrayal of an Orthodox community. I do know enough about editing to know that this is a sloppily edited book. There are disconnects in the descriptions of character - how can the same character have a rounded shape and yet appear tall and bony on consecutive pages? What irritates me most, however, is the laissez-faire attitude to commas and the complete lack of consistency in the punctuation of the vocative. Commas, where needed, are frequently omitted; they are over-used in other places where they are not needed. The story concept is interesting and the changes of perspective kept me reading even when my editorial antennae were bristling with indignation.
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on 16 May 2014
Loved this book. the emotions experienced by Chani and Baruch were so heartfelt and True. I didn't want this story to end. I would dearly like to know what came next for them. The characters in the story are diverse and real.
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