Books by Naomi Ragen

Released: Sept. 24, 2019

"The Sound of Music meets Fiddler on the Roof, but without the singing."
In her latest novel, Ragen (The Devil in Jerusalem, 2015, etc.) asks why a secular Jewish woman might join an Orthodox community and whether it would be possible for her to find not only acceptance, but family. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 15, 2013

"Of the complexities embraced in this intergenerational drama, some are harsh and difficult to relate to, while others are universal. The book is unflinching and surprisingly suspenseful."
Ragen (The Tenth Song, 2010, etc.) sensitively explores the repercussions in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family when one of its members leaves the fold. Read full book review >
THE TENTH SONG by Naomi Ragen
Released: Oct. 1, 2010

"A page-turner illustrating the horrifying consequences of becoming embroiled in the American legal system, slowed by far too many weighty passages of authorial comment about the sad state of morals today."
An upper-middle-class Jewish family is thrown into turmoil when a father is accused of abetting terrorism. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 2007

"Revealing, if long-winded, examination of contemporary Orthodox Judaism."
Conniving rebbitzin topples a wealthy Jewish community. Read full book review >
THE COVENANT by Naomi Ragen
Released: Nov. 1, 2004

"No perfect ending, but enough redemption and hope make this a quiet celebration of survival."
Bonds forged in Auschwitz help a young mother caught in the Intifada to survive—in a scrupulously fair-minded and riveting tale of current Israel. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 28, 2002

"More a detailed portrait than a riveting tale of a family caught in the undertow of a fatal obsession."
The fifth from American-born Ragen (The Ghost of Hannah Mendes, 1998, etc.), a resident of Israel for the past 30 years, draws on her childhood to tell the poignant story of Sara, a young girl who also grew up in low-income housing in New York City. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 22, 1998

A 16th-century ghost helps her present-day descendant preserve the past, in a story by American-Israeli Ragen (The Sacrifice of Tamar, 1994, etc.) that's as much a heartfelt plea for continuity as a family saga. When 74-year-old Catherine da Costa is told that her illness is terminal, she finds herself worrying more about her family's future than about her own death. Catherine is the only descendant of Hannah Mendes (a real historical figure), who escaped the Spanish Inquisition, did business with kings, and enlarged an already great fortune made from the spice trade. Now the only heirs to whom Catherine can leave the family's relics—religious objects, Hannah's Hebrew Bible, a few pages of her memoirs—are her granddaughters Suzanne and Francesca. Catherine's daughter Janice married out of the faith and shows no interest in the ancestral past, but, unfortunately, the granddaughters aren't promising material, either: both, in their 20s, are alienated from the family, not religiously observant, have had unsatisfactory relationships, and are still unmarried. Then, while napping in her chair in her Fifth Avenue apartment, Catherine is visited by Hannah's ghost, who comes up with a plan to ensure the family's survival. Shamelessly holding out the promise of money, she meets with her granddaughters and asks them to indulge her by going to Europe to track down the remaining pages of Hannah's own memoirs, begun in 1574. Suzanne, more interested in good causes than family history, and the ever-practical Francesca, not one for the unplanned life, accept reluctantly, but soon find themselves caught up in the search. As the two young women travel, they have their own encounters with Hannah (her story alternates with theirs), and both fall in love with very suitable Sephardic Jews—Gabriel, a doctor who shares Suzanne's humanitarian concerns, and bookseller Marius, who teaches Francesca to be more carefree. The future assured, Catherine and Hannah can depart in peace. A glossy celebration of culture and family, inevitably a tad schmaltzy but, like Ragen's previous work, an agreeable enough read. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 2, 1994

Classic urban-Jewish myth replaces Bible stories in this latest chaste offering from Ragen (Sotah, 1992, etc.). Ultra-Orthodox, 21-year-old Tamar Finegold is raped by a black man while babysitting her nephew. Unwilling to become an object of pity and gossip in her tightly knit Brooklyn community, Tamar resolves to hide the fact from her family, friends, and neighbors. She even keeps the incident a secret from her pious husband, Josh, afraid that he will divorce her if Jewish law commands him to. When Tamar discovers that she is pregnant, however, she must reevaluate. The child could be the rapist's, but it might also be Josh's, with whom she slept that very same night. After soul-searching and sleeplessness, Tamar finally confides in her two best friends from childhood: Hadassah Mandlebright, the fallen only daughter of the revered Kovnitzer Rebbe, and born-again Jew Jenny Douglas. The three women meet at Hadassah's apartment in Manhattan and Tamar leaves the next morning determined to go through with her pregnancy. Eight months later she gives birth to a white child, Aaron. Tamar believes that the episode is finished; for the next 20 years she lives a spotless—if troubled- -life, giving birth to two more children, becoming a respected matron in the community. But when Aaron's wife is punished for Tamar's sins of omission, Tamar must again make a decision, this time one her conscience can live with. Although Ragen exposes herself to charges of racism here, the black rapist is more important as a plot device than a representative of his race. More central is Ragen's typically harsh judgment of the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, although she does create some saintly religious characters. As in Sotah, Ragen's moral is that fulfillment can be found outside the rigid boundaries of community but within the teachings of the commandments. ClichÇ-ridden and predictable, but also strangely affecting. (Author tour) Read full book review >
SOTAH by Naomi Ragen
Released: Oct. 2, 1992

Love-conquers-all genre takes on deep philosophical questions as Ragen (Jephte's Daughter, 1989) continues her exploration of orthodox Jewish life in this story of a woman accused of adultery- -the sotah. The setting is the ultraorthodox milieu of Jerusalem, where the men study the Torah in yeshivas while their wives bear numerous children, clean and cook, and find outside work to supplement their meager incomes. Here, heroine Dina's struggle to be independent and still religiously observant provides the more profound concerns of a story that, despite its religious background, is basically your typically rosy fade-out into a technicolor sunset, with all problems—and they are not insubstantial—wrapped up in the last chapter. Dina Reich, the beautiful and dutiful daughter of Rabbi Reich and his remarkably energetic and saintly wife, yearns for love, for knowledge of a wider world than the narrow one she is confined to. A brief romance, ended because her family could not pay the requisite dowry, means that Dina must accept a husband chosen by the sect's matchmaker and approved by her parents. She marries good but painfully inarticulate Judah, a carpenter; bears a child; then, bored and lonely, begins a relationship with a more worldly neighbor. Though it's not consummated, religious vigilantes threaten her, and at their behest she flees to New York, where she works as a maid for a wonderful family, who, when she breaks down, do all they can to bring about the inevitable happy ending. Not only is Dina reunited with Judah, whose virtues she now appreciates, but she also finds a satisfactory compromise between the comforting security of religion and tradition and the more fulfilling aspects of sectarian life. Richness of faith and family lovingly evoked, with the other side—religious and cultural intolerance—equally given its due, but it all seems too easy. Philosophy lite. Read full book review >