A tender, and at times frank peak behind the Scheitel (wig) culture of the Ultra-Orthodox community in the Golders Green/Hendon area of London.
It is a brave thing that a non-Haredi chooses to write about a culture that keeps its doors firmly closed to the outside world of modern Western culture. But I think the author has really achieved a good balance of insight, empathy and reality (as far as one can tell, of course), and for this she was rewarded by being included on the Man Booker Longlist of 2013.
Chani, in her late teens, is waiting to be approached by the shadchan (the matchmaker) with a proposition from a potential husband, just to meet and spend a little time together. Her suitor is Baruch who espied her at a wild wedding celebration.
The story line is interwoven with the stories of others, all of whom have a connection to the couple, and through their eyes we glimpse a little of what life can be like in the Orthodox community. Like any of us, the individuals are trying to find their way through life, deflecting the bad, and embracing the good. There are a huge amount of strictures to observe in everyday life for those who aspire to be frum (religious/observant) - from food preparation, to interaction between the sexes, attire, you name it. There seems to be an overriding sense of monochrome 'colouring' their lives, a touch lacklustre, and a depressing lack of information when it comes to sex (so it was interesting to see such a brightly coloured cover on this book). But who are any of us to judge a choice of lifestyle, one which clearly becomes deeply ingrained in each new baby that arrives, and is clearly based on a very strong sense of community.
If you are not familiar with the ways of the Ultra Orthodox community, it will certainly be a revelation. It is beautifully written, well observed and for the most part sensitively written.