Orphaned during the Holocaust, two ultra-orthodox Jews bound by love and faith are driven apart by the same forces in a sensitive consideration of tradition and commitment.
French-raised Markovits’ English-language debut opens in Manhattan in 2005 with the meeting of two women: Atara, who, like the author, fled her Hasidic family to avoid an arranged marriage; and Judith, the granddaughter of Atara’s adopted sister, burdened by a cataclysmic secret. Then the clock turns back to Transylvania in 1939, where Josef witnesses the murder of his family and is taken in by a Catholic farmer, and Mila is saved by Josef when her parents are murdered too. Rabbi Stern later rescues Josef and sends him to the U.S. while taking Mila into his own family. Stern’s daughter Atara starts to question her father’s beliefs and expectations, including limited education for women, and also researches a dark episode of Holocaust history involving Mila’s parents and a revered Hasidic rabbi whose escape from Europe may have come at a very high price. When Mila and Josef marry, Atara abandons her family and disappears. The years pass but Mila doesn’t conceive. Finally, when she does, desperate choices have been made by both husband and wife. Decades later, matters come full circle as Judith and Atara choose what matters most.
Less a commercial family saga, more a sober, finely etched scrutiny of extreme belief set in a female context.