Book Quote:

“The bride stood like a pillar of salt, rigid under layers of itchy petticoats. Sweat dripped down the hollow of her back and collected in pools under her arms staining the ivory silk. She edged closer to The Bedeken Room door, one ear pressed up against it.”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowsky (APR 7, 2014)

In The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, Eve Harris discloses the secrets of a Chasidic community in Golders Green, London, focusing on the tribulations of three families: the Kaufmans, Levys, and Zilbermans. The Kaufmans have eight daughters, one of whom, nineteen-year-old Chani, is seeking an intelligent, animated, and good-natured husband. The Levys, a well-to-do couple, want only the best for their son, Baruch, and plan to settle for nothing less. The Zilbermans are facing a major crisis. Rabbi Zilberman’s wife, Rivka, is no longer a contented spouse, mother, and homemaker; she is restless, edgy, and depressed. Adding to the tension is the fact that one of her sons, Avromi, a university student, is acting strangely. He is secretive, stays out late, and avoids telling his family where he has been.

Harris goes back and forth in time, creating a well-rounded portrait of a community whose members prize tradition, virtue, and spirituality. If anyone deviates from prescribed standards of behavior–by dressing immodestly, showing too much interest in secular matters, or flouting religious law–he or she risks censure or, in some cases, ostracism. However, the author indicates that many Chasidim have a great deal to be grateful for: particularly the support of relatives, friends, and neighbors and the peace of mind that comes from knowing one’s place in the world.

The cast includes the young and not-so-young, the experienced and naïve, the affluent and those struggling to get by. We observe Chani Kaufman navigating the dating scene with anticipation as well as trepidation. We also meet Baruch Levy, a twenty-year-old who fears that he is not ready to shoulder the responsibilities that marriage entails. Manipulating the matchmaking strings is the smug and calculating Mrs. Gelbmann, a shadchan who relishes the inordinate amount of power that she wields. Readers’ hearts go out to Chani’s mother, a long-suffering matriarch who, at forty-five, has already borne eight daughters and is thoroughly burned out.

Ms. Harris is knowledgeable about the Hasidic lifestyle, and portrays her flawed and troubled characters with understanding, insight, and compassion. Her decision to relate events out of chronological order is initially bewildering. However, it allows us to stand back and consider complex situations from a variety of angles and viewpoints. The author presents the limited options available to young people like Chanie and Baruch. Should they adhere to the accepted laws and customs handed down by their parents or follow a different path that might be more to their liking? Chani wonders, “What was it like to roam freely in the world and not have to think about your every action and its spiritual consequence?” For men and women who find the constraints of a sheltered and choreographed existence limiting, the choice to remain strictly observant is a difficult one. The Marrying of Chani Kaufman is a provocative, enlightening, and engrossing book, written with skill and flair, in which the author explores universal themes that will resonate with anyone who has clashed with loved ones, suffered unbearable losses, and has had to make difficult, life-changing decisions.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 41 readers
PUBLISHER: Grove Press, Black Cat (April 1, 2014)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
EXTRAS: Excerpt and an interview with the author
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April 7, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Family Matters, Man Booker Nominee, United Kingdom, World Lit

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