There are books that just call my name, their topics are usually ones I’m curious about, and this is the case with I Am Forbidden. Something about the Satmar Hasidim sect of Judaism is so fascinating to me, a Southern girl with mostly Baptist roots. My friends have taught me much about being a Jew(thanks Judy), but this strict and hidden sect has always been interesting to me. This work of fiction has the feel of a memoir, a true story that could have happened. The time setting is also perfect, during and post World War II. I was so drawn to this book, and as I began reading I was pulled into this story.
Starting in the late 1930’s in Transylvania with the Nazi’s taking over Europe and killing Jews, this book takes it’s reader on a journey of survival, love, shame and prayers for the future. Josef is a young man when his family is killed by Romanian officers. The family’s housekeeper finds him and takes him away to her home, where she cuts off his curls and changes his name, and keeps him safe. He attends her Christian church and forgets much of the Yiddish he knows. A few years later he finds Mila, after her family is shot trying to board a train and escape the Nazis. He knows she is a Jew and she is only five years old. She knows the name of her father’s best friend, Zolan Stern, and Josef takes the time to find their home and to deliver Mila to the Stern family, to be raised in her faith and culture. Zolan learns the truth about Josef and goes to find him, he feels he must return him to his faith, as all Jews seek to do good deeds in this life. It is a driving force for Josef and Zolan. He is eventually sent to study with the Rebbe in the United States, but he and Mila share a bond, and their worlds will cross once again.
The Stern family has a daughter, Atara, she and Mila become the best of friends, sisters. The family moves to Paris to escape the communism of their homeland. They do not feel they can live as strictly or faithfully in Paris but they are safer. They girls love Paris, and the gardens, but they are raised in such restricted religious standards that the world out side of Hasidim will remain closed to them.
The book moves though their lives, their loves and heartbreaks. I was riveted to each chapter, and I cried as my heart broke reading of the trials they underwent.
The author, Anouk Markovits has a style and talent that drew me in to each part of this book. Her historical information was researched and correct, and her own upbringing as a Hasidic young woman has surely given her a knowledge most of us will never know. I was equally intrigued by the modern day life of Hasidic Jews living in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn New York.
This book was a wonderful read for me, a 5 out of 5 stars. I highly recommend this book, and I’ll me looking for more from this author.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Hogarth for providing an egalley of this book to me.