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Having lived an observant lifestyle for a very short time in my youth, I was not completely blindsided by the Hasidic way of life portrayed in Unorthodox.
So with a bit of background I delved into Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. The first half of Unorthodox explores the customs, laws and lifestyles of Satmar Hasidim. The reader learns about this extreme sect of Jews and this sets the scene for Feldman’s reason for her escape to a less oppressive western culture. She explains how she felt as a child growing up and then as a young woman in this bizarro world where she felt repressed, unclean, and more of a tool for making babies than an equal partner in a marriage.
While reading this book, I had to remember that this is Feldman’s account of what happened around her. It doesn’t represent all of the Satmar Hasidim. Her father had a mental illness and her mother left her to be raised by her grandparents. Right off, this sets the scene for a dysfunctional life. She ends up in an arranged marriage, which is the norm, but her husband is a mama’s boy, lazy and insensitive. Gee, I know lots of guys like that and they aren’t Satmars at all! So Feldman ends up in a bad marriage with its share of problems, the primary one being sexual. Since they are both virgins when they marry, they need to discover sex as a couple, something that could be very special, but for these two it ends up being gross and convoluted, again, not necessarily a “Satmar” problem. Deborah and her husband Eli are misfits and she looks for ways to escape and find happiness elsewhere.
Many people settle for a miserable existence and this is where I have to give Feldman credit. She left her family, friends, husband and the only life she knew and escaped to unchartered waters where she hoped she could live a more fulfilling and happy life. That takes courage and guts.
Unorthodox is written as a one-sided glimpse into the enclosed secretive world of extreme Orthodoxy. Feldman airs the dirty laundry of this eccentric, sacred club, which is not all that different from any extreme religious group. When you read this memoir you have to keep in mind that you’re reading Deborah Feldman’s individual story. This is her book, her journey.
The narrator didn't add anything to the book. She got tongue-tied on many of the Yiddish words and mispronounced others to the point of causing me to have to rewind to understand what she said. If you can get past that, she was okay.
32 of 35 people found this review helpful
This is an interesting, personal memoir of one woman's early life in the rigid and old-fashioned Satmar sect of the Jewish community. It is not a documentary and not an expose of this ultra-Orthodox group of people. For those who don't know, the Satmar tend to live lives that are largely cut off from neighboring communities. The communities are mostly self-sufficient, somewhat like the Amish, although the Satmar do use clothes, books, food and products made in modern manufacturing facilities.
From watching an interview with the writer, it becomes apparent that she has too much 'spark' and individuality to be satisfied and/or successful in such a rigid, narrow, male-dominated (some would say sexist) environment. Part of Feldman's personality has probably developed since she left the Satmar community with her young son a few years ago. I don't think people "choose" to belong to a Satmar comunity; one is born into that tradition.
I can recommend this book to people who know about Judaism (or are Jewish) and want to read a personal story of life both inside and outside the Satmar Jewish community. The narrator is just "OK" in my opinion, but the storyline keeps one listening all the way through to the end.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful