THE LADIES' AUXILIARY by Tova Mirvis

THE LADIES' AUXILIARY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A debut that details, with wisdom and grace, the inevitable tensions between the comfort of community and the need for individual freedom, as a young widow and convert moves into a close-knit Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and becomes an unwitting catalyst for change. The Orthodox families of Memphis, Tennessee, are as proud of their century-old southern roots as they are of their Jewish heritage. They all live in the same neighborhood, attend the same synagogue, and educate their children at the same schools. Members of the older generation like Mrs. Levy, the community’s matriarch as well as its eyes and ears, are intent on preserving the old rules. But younger matrons like Naomi Eisenberg yearn for more freedom, and the teenagers, especially Shira Feldman, are feeling rebellious. The story of the year that follows Batsheva’s arrival with five-year-old daughter Ayala is related by the surprisingly effective “we” of the Ladies Auxiliary. An artist who found the spiritual home she’d been seeking in Judaism, Batsheva comes to Memphis because her late husband Benjamin had lived there and she wants Ayala to have the same warm and secure childhood he had. Beguiled by Batsheva’s enthusiasm and fresh response to rituals and holidays that for them are now sterile and onerous routines, the Ladies are at first friendly and welcoming. That changes, however, when Batsheva starts teaching art to the high-school girls and becomes their mentor and confidant. The women are also suspicious of her friendship with the rabbi’s son, Yosef, who’s taking a year off from his rabbinical studies. When Shira Feldman runs away with her gentile boyfriend and Yosef decides not to become a rabbi, the Ladies blame Batsheva and suggest she leave. Wise Mimi, the Rabbi’s wife, helps them finally accept both Batsheva and the changes the community needs if it is to survive. An impressive debut, up there on that high middle ground the Victorians made their own.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-393-04814-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1999




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