Widely applauded when it was published last year, Pearl Abraham's debut novel The Romance Reader possesses that quality that distinguishes all great fiction—a fresh look at the universal truths that bind us together. Like Chaim Potok, who revealed the Orthodox Jewish world from a young man's perspective in The Chosen, Abraham explores new ground, offering readers a tender story of a young Hasidic woman facing the challenges of growing up and the demands of her religion.
Rachel Benjamin is the daughter of a quixotic rabbi who dreams of building a synagogue in the secluded upstate New York bungalow colony where his family now lives. As the rabbi's eldest daughter, Rachel is expected to set an example for her five siblings and for the other girls in the community: she must wear thick opaque tights with seams; she is forbidden to wear a bathing suit in public; and she can never read books in English. But like all young adults, Rachel bristles at the stringent rules set by her family and her religion, rebelling in ways that become increasingly apparent. Whether sneaking sheer nylons in and out of the house or applying for an illicit library card that will allow her access to the romance novels that she loves, Rachel is determined to do things her way. Dreaming of a life that mirrors that of the heroines in her favorite novels, Rachel craves the independence she will never have as a Hasidic woman in an arranged marriage. And yet, as her impending marriage draws inevitably nearer, the pulls of family and faith weigh against the frightening and unknown world beyond her own.
This coming-of-age tale is both unusual and familiar—an intriguing, heartfelt look at the power of family and religion in the Hasidic community and the universal desire to leave the nest.
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Pearl Abraham is the author of the novels The Romance Reader and Giving Up America, and the editor of the Dutch anthology Een Sterke Vrouw: Jewish Heroines in Literature. Her work has appeared in Brooklyn Noir, The Michigan Quarterly, Religion in America, Dog Culture: Writers on the Character of Canines, and Forward.From Publishers Weekly:
Abraham shows strong talent in her debut novel, the story of a young girl's coming-of-age in an ultraorthodox Hasidic home. The reader soon cares deeply about narrator Rachel, the eldest of six children, who yearns for some of the forbidden fruits of the secular world. Her rebbe father is another endearing character; he dreams of establishing a major synagogue and learning center even while he desperately looks for a 10th man for a minyan for his sparse congregation. Most of the story takes place in a suburban community that receives an influx of Hasidim in the summer months; for the rest of the year, the rebbe's family is the neighborhood curiosity. Rachel is a dutiful child who tries hard to please her mother, an angry woman who belittles her husband's dreams and wants to be part of one of Brooklyn's larger Hasidic enclaves. Rachel's glimpses of the larger world come from casual and often uncomfortable encounters with non-Jews and secular Jews in her town, but especially from romance novels, which she reads secretly. Her seemingly flagrant behavior (she refuses to wear seamed, opaque stockings, opting instead for seamless, and will not wear a cover-up over her bathing suit while teaching young girls to swim) brings shame to her family and endangers a marital opportunity for her brilliant younger brother. Despite her resolve to establish a more independent life, Rachel agrees to an arranged marriage, both to make her family happy and as a first step toward a new existence. When this match goes awry, Rachel's solution is both funny and bittersweet. Abraham's intense, sensitive prose and her ability to create vivid scenes and memorable characters augment this authentic, often disturbing, look at Hasidic home life and beliefs. Literary Guild featured alternate; author tour. (Aug.).
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Book Description Demco Media. Turtleback. Book Condition: Good. Ex-Library Book - will contain Library Markings. Book shows a small amount of wear to cover and binding. Some pages show signs of use. Bookseller Inventory # G0606240152I3N10