THE ROMANCE READER by Pearl Abraham

THE ROMANCE READER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A promising debut by Abraham: the seemingly autobiographical story of a young woman growing up in the hermetic world of ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews. Rachel is the oldest of seven children of a rabbi and his unhappy wife, highly traditional Jews living in a small town in upstate New York. A bright, inquisitive, and rebellious girl, Rachel defies the conventions of this tightly self-enclosed community: She wears beige pantyhose, tries hard to get a borrower's card from the local library, resists the arranged marriage her parents yearn for. At the same time, her father struggles tirelessly to establish bis own synagogue in a community dominated by adherents of one of the older Hasidic sects, while his wife argues just as vehemently against his efforts. Abraham recounts this coming-of-age story with affection and insight. She makes few concessions to the possible ignorance of non-Jewish (or assimilated Jewish) readers, choosing an austerity of method that has the positive effect of giving an unflinching portrait of a world not open to outsiders. To her lasting credit, the author shows a balanced picture of Hasidic traditions and the emerging complexities of a family's life--undercutting initial perceptions of what the parents' relationship must be like and readers' expectations of a cardboard opposition between a rebellious ""modern"" daughter and her ""repressive"" religious upbringing. Instead, we get a complex family portrait that even manages to suggest the limitations of Rachel's way of seeing her parents and community. The story does begin to run out of steam in its second half, and the title is unfortunate, suggesting an anthology of bodice-rippers rather than a serious novel. Still, an intelligent first novel--poignant and thoughtful--from a writer to watch.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1573225487
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Riverhead/Putnam