Review: I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth (May 8, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0307984737
  • Source: Publisher

In Transylvania in 1939, Josef is just five years old when he witnesses the murder of his family at the hands of the Romanian Iron Guard. He is rescued by a maid who raises him as her own son. Just five years later he rescues Mila, whose family is also murdered. Mila is taken to the home of Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community. Mila is raised as Stern’s daughter, a sister to his daughter, Atara.  Despite the two girls being raised together, they are divided by Mila’s intense loyalty to her faith and Atara’s need discover a world of knowledge forbidden to her as a female.

The family is moved to Paris after Communism begins to take hold in their home country. Satmar is desperate for his daughters to continue a life in faith, ignoring the beliefs of the city around them. Mila continues her path with faith, marrying a man who abides by the strict fundamentalist doctrine. Despite Stern’s attempts to keep Atara on the path her faith has decided for her, she continues to ignore the strict guidelines her faith has bestowed upon her and continues to bury herself in a world of books and forbidden knowledge. To do so, she makes the heartbreaking decision to leave her family. Her desire to be an educated woman outweighs the bonds of family.

The girls are reunited years later. Mila, unable to get pregnant, does the unthinkable and steps outside the bounds of her faith in order to conceive. Her decision, if every discovered, will force her, her daughter, and her daughter’s children to be shunned from the community, forced to become outcasts.

I Am Forbidden at its core, is a heartbreaking story of faith and the power of family. The experience that Markovits had in her youth, raised by Hasidic Jewish parents, adds to the believability and reality of Atara and Mila’s fate. She broke ties with her own family in order to avoid an arranged marriage, attending college and seeking an education herself. It’s not difficult to see bits of her own life in that of Atara’s, a girl so desperate to be given the same access to education as of boys of her faith.

This novel is a truly compelling one. Despite having little knowledge of this faith, I was drawn in within a few pages, obsessed with what happened to these two young girls. While there was a great deal of pain and devastation in the girls’ lives, there is also certainly an element of hope and exhilaration that shines through the darkness.

While the first portion of the novel is a bit confusing due to my unfamiliarity with the religion and its customs, the rest of the novel is a truly beautiful piece of work. I was so moved by the characters, the intensity of my devotion to them continued to grow as their lives progressed. Despite sounding cliche, they truly did become a part of me, I find myself forgetting they are fictional characters.  The way Markovits develops them as individuals, their growth so profound, I find myself viewing them as living, breathing women.

Markovits gives her readers the gift of a glimpse inside such a private and contained religious group. It opened my eyes to a culture that I’ve heard of, but never really knew much about. This book has moved me like none other and has inspired me to learn more about this culture. Highly, highly recommended.

Hogarth is a newly formed Random House imprint. If this book is any indication of the types of books this imprint plans on publishing, I cannot wait to read what else they have in store.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Please be sure to check out the official tour page to learn more about the author as well as visit the other stops in this tour.