Monday, July 30, 2007

The Outside World by Tova Mirvis

I like books about subcultures, and about closed societies. Why? Maybe I am curious about people's day-to-day habits, especially those whose lives are closely circumscribed by rules. Maybe I like to compare my life to that of other people, people who have more discipline (either external or internal) than I do. Who knows?

This book is about subcultures within subcultures, specifically two branches of Orthodox Judaism, one of which is more restrictive than the other. Members of the two groups are forced to deal with one another when young people attempt to cross the boundaries, specifically via that age-old motivator, love. While this isn't Romeo and Juliet, it's still a tale of two young people who would normally never meet and get together, who somehow manage to find each other and create happiness, against the odds.

Tzippy's family is ultra-orthodox. Raised to consider marriage and motherhood her ultimate goal, she subconsciously strains against this ideal, rejecting suitor after suitor for reasons that she cannot articulate even to herself. Still unmarried at the age of 23 (over the hill, in her society), she convinces her despairing parents to let her to go Israel for a year of study. In Israel, she meets Brian. Brian's family is modern orthodox; this is a much less restrictive brand of observance, where young people are granted far more freedom. Brian, however, is searching for a more fulfilling approach to his Judaism and just as Tzippy is trying to shed some of her strictures, Brian is acquiring them. Of course they fall in love.

You might think this book is light, with its love story and its continuing emphasis on weddings. But there's a lot going on here: Tzippy's mother's desperate search to fit in to the restrictive society, Brian's mother's spiritual awakening, father-son relationships and their baggage of expectations met and unmet. It's more than the sum of its parts.

(Book 33, 2007)


Anonymous said...

I think many people's fascination with closed societies comes from wondering whether those societies really have found some sort of better way to live or not. We're always looking for answers to the problems we see in the world around us, and it's human nature to want to find easy answers, in this case by hoping one of these closed groups is living some sort of ideal life that we could copy.

At least, that's my theory. :) This sounds like a fascinating book!

Becky Holmes said...

Heather, I think that's a really good theory. It would be nice to be able to think "if I just follow these rules" then everything will work out. Rules can be stifling or they can be freeing. It depends on how you look at them.

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