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The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris - Review

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

This is an adult book, but it's an adult book about older teenagers, so I am recommending it to any teenager from around seventeen onwards. I will bear that in mind while I'm writing this review.

When I read The Power, I was aware that Naomi Alderman was from a Jewish background and that she had written Disobedience, a novel about a rabbi's daughter who is a lesbian, who has to return to Orthodox Jewish London after her father dies. I think Judaism is really present in The Power; I think it informs the novel a lot and I liked picking up on that. So when I saw an article about Disobedience, and how Naomi was frum when she wrote it but had since given up practising Judaism, I was really interested to read it. Hang on.... This is the article. In it, Naomi mentions some other books about Orthodox Jewish communities, so I bought three of them on eBay for a few pounds each. I find a lot of fundamental religious communities utterly fascinating, I've read a lot of books about different ones.

I picked up The Marrying of Chani Kaufman not long after these books all arrived. 

It's nominally about Chani, who is nineteen, and who are the beginning of the book is about to get married to Baruck, a suitable frum boy from a suitable family. She's anxious, unsure about what will happen between them on the wedding night, unsure about what kind of man Baruck is, and unsure about how to be a good Jewish wife. At school she was considered "spirited", and her new mother-in-law dislikes her. Chani has had some help from the rabbi's wife, Rivka, but Rivka has secrets of her own and other things on her mind.

The book goes backwards in time so that we see how Baruck and Chani met, how the community matchmaker was involved, how both Baruck and Chani fit into their families and what they hope their marriage will be like. We meet Rivka as a much younger woman in Israel in the 1980s, when she was less Orthodox and known by her birth name Rebecca (Rivka is the Hebrew for the name Rebecca), we see how she met her husband and how they became Orthodox Jewish. We see their son Avi, Baruck's friend, and how he is going against the wishes of the community. It's a really expansive novel but never confusing, and I really liked seeing so many points of view and different people's actions.

I liked Chani a lot, she is a likeable heroine and I felt for her a lot throughout the book. I hope she had a good marriage - I hope she and Baruck made it work!

This is, I think, as a complete Gentile, a good introduction to Orthodox Judaism in a really accessible way. There's a glossary at the back for unfamiliar words, but a quick google of anything else would help if you're completely ignorant of Jewish life (my undergraduate degree was in Theology and Religious Studies and I studied Judaism, so I'm familiar with quite a lot of it. I liked Chani and Rivka a lot and wanted them both to succeed and be happy. I would really recommend the book if you're interested in the subject matter. 

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