I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Author: Anouk Markovits
Format: Hardcover, 308 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pub Date: May 8, 2012
I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits is an intimate and tender revelation of the private and reverent world of the strict Hasidic sect, the Satmar. This generational story is both a delicate and harsh division in one family whose one polar opposite is deeply rooted in the full conviction of its piety, complete obedience, and practice of its extreme spiritual traditions to the other spectrum of yearning for independence through secularism and modernity.
The narrative is beautifully written, a clear and tender exposition that reads naturally and easily without the difficulty that is sometimes associated with getting through a text. Markovits writes with light lyricism and vulnerable honesty that her characters, though flawed, render the reader deeply empathetic.
Zalman Stern’s character is synonymous with his name, a serious, committed, and devout man of the Torah and the Hasidic law, honouring always its doctrine as the first and foremost priority in his life—or rather, embodying in the best way he can, a lifestyle that is worthy in honouring HaShem.
Hannah is Zalman’s dutiful and honourable wife, a loving and humble matriarch, obedient in accordance to the role of wife and mother in the Satmar community.
But the tension in the novel as well as in the Stern family begins with the gradual disintegration of faith by Atara, daughter of Zalman and Hannah and the further observance and spiritual convictions of Mila, their adopted daughter.
As the two young women make their separate choices between selfless abandon into the faith or the difficult decision to abandon family and its beliefs altogether, the story delves deeper into a territory of which there are no black and white, clear, or simple answers—whether they be from the literal translations of the Torah or the social acceptability and constructs of secularism.
And what is wonderful about this book is its equal grace in sharing the beauty and reverence found in both worlds without judgement of one better than another in pronouncing one way of life as right or wrong. The reader may do that on his or her own, but the book itself does not read as a biased one, which gives its characters the freedom they require to be themselves, wholeheartedly, and without judgement.
It does, however, aim to reveal in its complexity, the capacity that human nature has to surrender itself to its chosen convictions, confusions, and acts of self-preservation.
The story continues in its second generational story between Mila and Josef: how acts of sin are terrorized with love and desperation. The tension between what one feels that he or she is called to do by compulsion of conviction, pure willingness, and spiritual law versus what one desires to do for oneself out of pride and desire—is a taut tightrope in which the lines of division are blurred.
I Am Forbidden is an eloquent, graceful, and dramatic story, which begs the question of how to remain faithful to God, family, community, and oneself without sacrificing one facet over to another. The story is both crisis and redemption in both forms of spirituality and secularism and the burning passion in which they clash and implode.
Anouk Markovits is a gifted storyteller with an acutely aware and sensitive pen.
This is a book that I highly recommend to readers of all faiths inclusive of those who are non-believers in any particular religion for it is more than a story of religious, spiritual dichotomy. It is a beautiful narrative of the capacity and the intrinsic human condition to assert itself in its desire to approach—and sometimes reproach— its relationship to knowledge, love, laws, morality, and its Creator.
A special thank you to Doubleday Canada of Random House Canada for providing me with a media copy of the book in exchange for an unpaid and honest review.
Have you ever felt compelled to put God and your faith first before all other things and people?
What are the privileges of a spiritual life ? What do you consider most beautiful about a reverent life for God and faith?
What are and in what circumstances of faith can piety and full abandonment and obedience be difficult—even dangerous?
What is the most important lesson we can learn about ourselves when it comes to understanding and accepting others of different spiritual beliefs, theology, and faith?