Talk about an intense book. There is a so much going on here, I am not even sure where to begin. At the book's opening, the reader is thrust into what is, for most of us, a totally foreign, darkly intense world of Hasidic Judaism. I was really struck by the strict nature of this sect. I knew some of the commandments, but the portrayal of them in the text was, at times, overwhelming. The books' opening is confusing, and the religion is so foreign, but I think that this is intentional, to signify the confusion and guilt of Josef and Mila, as well as some of the other characters in the book. By a third of the way through the book, everything that happened at the opening made perfect sense, and I was really glad that I was able to hang in there with the story, even when it was uncomfortable.
While Josef and Mila's stories take up the majority of the book, there is this really exquisite substory involving Atara, and her rebellion against Hasidism. She pushes back against the oppression of women within the sect, and her level of independence has a profound impact on Mila, though that impact will take years to be evident.
The book is incredibly complex, dealing with raw and dark aspects of Jewish life in Europe during the 30s and 40s. I found the writing to be a little dense, which I chalked up to this being the author's first English language novel. Even with that density, I found the book incredibly compelling. It is certainly not the kind of book that will appeal to everyone. If you are looking for a light read with a happy ending, this is not a good match for you. But if you are looking for an intense, honest, raw glimpse of a world you might otherwise never experience, dive on in, you will not be sorry.
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