The New York Times - Books of The Times Sisters Joined by Tumult, Grown Apart in Time
By Susannah Meadows
Anouk Markovits was raised a Hasidic Jew in France, but at 19 she fled her community to avoid an arranged marriage. She went on to get a master's degree in architecture and a Ph.D. in romance studies. "I Am Forbidden," her first novel in English, centers on two Hasidic sisters: one who leaves, and one who stays, shunning modernity. Given the author's background, you might assume that this is a story about how one of them is wrecked by her choice.
But the wonder of this elegant, enthralling novel is the beauty Ms. Markovits unearths in the Hasidic community she takes us into. She remains largely nonjudgmental about the most difficult-to-grasp practices of the Satmar sect, while showing how even the most fervent believers struggle with the letter-of-the-law faith. More »
TLS / The Times Literary Supplement - UK
By Kerstin Hoge
"Anouk Markovits's portrayal of the contradictions and compromises of Hasidic faith is fascinating." More »
Sunday Telegraph - UK Catherine Taylor praises a luminous study of life and loss within a Satmar Hasidic family
The world evoked in this novel of a Hasidic family, published by the newly revived Hogarth Press.... More »
Entertainment Weekly - Must List Book Review
By Stephan Lee
Markovits makes her stamp on the literary world with an ambitious, religiously-centered debut.
...Richly rewards your efforts and heralds a promising new writer. More »
The New Yorker Books Briefly Noted
Markovits’s heroines are disenfranchised but resourceful, possessing an innate spirituality, despite, or perhaps because of, the freedom denied them. More »
Library Journal - highly recommended
"I am forbidden, so are my children and my children's children, forbidden for ten generations male or female." With this opening line, Markovits immediately draws the reader in to a family saga of faith and long-hidden secrets, set among the Hasidic Jews of eastern Europe and spanning four generations. The story focuses on Atara, who rebels against the strict rules and rituals of her culture, and adopted sister Mila, who finds comfort and stability within the faith but struggles when she is unable to conceive a child. Raised in France, where she attended a religious seminary in lieu of high school, Markovits deftly weaves in copious information about Hasidic beliefs and the varieties of Jewish political thought during the 20th century while keeping the story intimate. Most important, she does not judge her characters but sympathizes with the human struggle in each, from Atara's rigidly devout Rebbe Zalman Stern, to Josef Lichtenstein, who can never quite forget the Christian woman who raised him as her own son during the war, to Atara herself, who thirsts for knowledge forbidden to her as a woman.
VERDICT: A stunning novel, the author's first in English; highly recommended.—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
Washtenaw Jewish News Best Read
By Rachel Urist
I Am Forbidden is a stunning novel. Written with eloquence and economy, it follows several generations of a Satmar Hassidic family, from Transylvania to Paris, France to Brooklyn, New York. The tale is told with a rare mix of tenderness, resentment, nostalgia, and perspective, and it offers a rare glimpse into the world of Satmar Hassidim.... Anouk Markovits grew up in the world of Satmar Hassidim. Her writing brings to mind a poignant axiom: to make a story universal, make it very specific. In her story, the foreign words that permeate the writing add color, texture, soul, and, strangely enough, universality. Markovits’ fluency in French, Yiddish, English and Hungarian helps her to flesh out these characters, as they journey through the chaos of 20th century Europe.... This book is an act of courage and literary prowess. More »
Publishers Weekly - starred review
In this English-language debut, set around WWII, Markovits tells a story of miraculous happenings. A Hasidic boy, saved when his family is killed, in turn saves a girl whose family has tried to flee with their beloved rabbi. Returned to the remnants of the community, then separated, they reunite in Brooklyn, where the rabbi is rebuilding the Satmar community, replicating every tradition, ritual, and law of the old world. But miracles and rituals and laws—even when designed to bring followers closer to God—come at a price, and Markovits pays scrupulous attention to those as well. Tracing the Stern family from Transylvania to Paris and Brooklyn, she focuses on daughter Atara and adopted daughter Mila, closer than close, until Atara wants more than the Satmar world can offer. Atara leaves; Mila stays, desperately trying to accommodate belief and desire. When she comes up with a theological work-around, we not only sympathize but understand; it is, after all, no more tangled and self-serving than the explanation of how the rabbi made it out of Europe. Raised in a Satmar home, Markovits plays fair: the believers are not stupid; their harsh world has beauty. We dwellers in the modern world know what "should" happen, but Markovits shows why, for those in the other world, it's not that simple. (May)
New HumanistBook Review
By Mark Say
In the latter days of World War Two, an orthodox Jew in Romania tells a rabbi that his wife had been raped while a prisoner of the local fascists, and asks if he can take her back. More »
Jewish Ledger Book Review
By Rabbi Jack Riemer
This could have been an easy novel to write. The author could have written the story of a free spirit who broke loose from the constraints of the Haredi world and found fulfillment in the outside world, or she could have written the story of a dedicated Haredi family who stayed loyal to the tradition despite the blandishments of the outside world. If she had told either of these stories, this would have been a trite and a predictable novel. Instead, Anouk Markovitz has written a novel in which we are drawn to the partial truths on both sides of the struggle between the Haredim and those who break away from them, and in which your heart goes out to all of the characters that are caught in the tension between the law and life. It is because she portrays her characters as real human beings, caught between two worlds, that I was hooked by this novel from the first page. More »
By Lynn Andriani
[A] story that will resonate with anyone who's ever bucked family expectations to find their own way of life. More »
Orphaned during the Holocaust, two ultra-orthodox Jews bound by love and faith are driven apart by the same forces in a sensitive consideration of tradition and commitment. French-raised Markovits' English-language debut opens in Manhattan in 2005 with the meeting of two women: Atara, who, like the author, fled her Hasidic family to avoid an arranged marriage; and Judith, the granddaughter of Atara's adopted sister, burdened by a cataclysmic secret. Then the clock turns back to Transylvania in 1939, where Josef witnesses the murder of his family and is taken in by a Catholic farmer, and Mila is saved by Josef when her parents are murdered too. Rabbi Stern later rescues Josef and sends him to the U.S. while taking Mila into his own family. Stern's daughter Atara starts to question her father's beliefs and expectations, including limited education for women, and also researches a dark episode of Holocaust history involving Mila's parents and a revered Hasidic rabbi whose escape from Europe may have come at a very high price. When Mila and Josef marry, Atara abandons her family and disappears. The years pass but Mila doesn't conceive. Finally, when she does, desperate choices have been made by both husband and wife. Decades later, matters come full circle as Judith and Atara choose what matters most.
Less a commercial family saga, more a sober, finely etched scrutiny of extreme belief set in a female context.
Winnipeg Free Press Markovits takes readers into hidden Hasidic world
By Nadia Kidwai
In her first English-language novel, U.S.-based French writer Anouk Markovits delves into the hidden world of the Satmar Hasidism, a closed sect of orthodox Jews originating in Hungary. Her unique story, engaging writing and fascinating subject matter makes this work of literary fiction a compelling read.
I Am Forbidden revolves around three central characters, Josef, Mila and Atara. It chronicles their intertwined lives from childhood during the Second World War, when they are raised in the strict Satmar Jewish tradition, to their old age in present-day Brooklyn, New York. More »
Historical Novel Society Reviews
By Tamela McCann
In Anouk Markovits’s outstanding novel, the title words could apply to many scenarios within its pages: cultures, relationships, and expectations all provide constant obstacles to either rise above or muddle through. There are many delicate balancing acts, and through it all, Markovits’s characters shine through with determination and intelligence. More »
The BulletinPhiladelphia’s First Reform Congregation: Good Reads
By Ethyl Treatman
I recently read I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits. I gobbled up this gem of a book.... More »
Vogue - Culture Spring's New Fiction: The Season Heats Up with Tales of Thwarted Desire
By Megan O'Grady
Anouk Markovits's I Am Forbidden (Hogarth) contrasts the fates of a Hasidic family's two daughters, one who breaks with tradition to pursue a life of intellectual and emotional freedom, the other who cleaves to convention.... More »
The Reporter Group Book Review: When Love and Law Clash
By Rabbi Rachel Esserman
What happens when the demands of Jewish law and the desires of the human heart clash? In her novel "I Am Forbidden" (Hogarth), Anouk Markovits explores how the answer to this question can echo through several generations. More »
Publishers Weekly - Author Profile Inside Out: Anouk Markovits
By Martha Schulman
Anouk Markovits never intended to write about the Satmar Hasidic community in which she grew up, but then came 9/11, and Markovits thought, "I've had personal experience with fundamentalist environments." Still, writing about that world didn't come easily. Whether fiction or memoir, most books set in these environments are written by and about those who, like Markovits, have left, and that wasn't the story she wanted to tell. Which raised the question: "Could I possibly write a book about the people who stayed?" Markovits's English-language debut, the novel I Am Forbidden (Hogarth Press, May 8), in which the outside world remains always outside, a place of temptation, opportunity, or of no interest whatsoever, is that book. Though compact (it started out "humongous" Markovits says, "but the longer I worked on it, the shorter it got"), the story spans 70 years—from the start of WWII to the present—and three locations: Transylvania, Paris, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
When we first meet Zalman Stern, the most brilliant student in the Satmar rabbi's court in 1939 Transylvania, Romania, he's in the throes of an erotic dream, "sinning in his sleep," despite heroic efforts. Markovits started there, she says, because she "wanted to establish that world in the most efficient way." Fundamentalisms, she says, have no room for the individual, no room for the body; indeed, the body is something to be on guard against. Zalman and his wife survive WWII and move to Paris with their growing family, which includes Mila, the orphaned daughter of Zalman's old study partner. The book is her story. In some ways, Mila's life is a series of miracles: reconnected to her community, she marries Josef—himself a hidden child during the war and the man who saved her. They live in Williamsburg, where the Satmar rabbi and the remnants of his European followers are rebuilding their lost world. But the most ordinary miracle of all, conception, is denied her.
Without a child, Mila cannot perpetuate the family the Nazis almost destroyed, nor is her marriage secure. As she grows increasingly desperate, both she and Josef begin to consider actions that violate orthodox strictures. When they both take action, simultaneously, in Paris, amid the electricity of the 1968 student revolt, the results are decisive, but decidedly mixed. While Mila can live with the choices she makes, Josef, whom Markovits calls the "character in the book who most grips me," cannot. Casting Mila as her protagonist allows Markovits to explore the condition of being a mamzer. Often loosely translated as bastard, the word designates a person born from a relationship considered unacceptable and, as a result, rendered unmarriageable unto the 10th generation. To Markovits, this profound injustice—banning people for acts they did not commit—embodies the nature of fundamentalism, which insists that "truth is eternal, absolute, doesn't relate to contingencies." Contingencies, of course, are what individual lives are made of. Finding a way to depict what it means to live in the gap between unchanging and eternal beliefs and life's shifting realities was essential to Markovits, who believes that the novel's job is to shed light on what is scandalous in a society. If Markovits sounds serious about literature, she has reason: she credits her ability to leave her community to two things. First, since there were only two Satmar families in her French town, she went to school and played with non-Satmar children, both Jewish and not. Second: reading. Books were not only a way to encounter a world she was told to shun, they let her see the inner lives of that world's inhabitants. In I Am Forbidden, Markovits reverses the lens, giving her believers inner lives that outsiders can see and feel. Asked how she got over her initial doubts about writing, Markovits, who is trained as an architect and "fascinated by how things work," said it was by focusing on the task of shaping the novel. And when her worries about getting inside the characters resurfaced, she thought about how little Flaubert would have had in common with a real-life Emma Bovary and told herself: "If Flaubert can write Madame Bovary, I can write I Am Forbidden."
A frequent contributor to Publishers Weekly, Martha Schulman's essays and short stories have been published in the U.S. and Britain.
Unpious Book Review
By Zackary Sholem Berger
A man runs naked to the Aron Kodesh. A boy, after witnessing the slaughter of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard, is saved, to be raised as a Christian. In parallel: The Satmar Rebbe, in an open car, is within shouting distance of his Hasidim whom he does not or cannot save from extermination. This is national tragedy, theological failure. More »
The Globe and Mail - Toronto 'Thou Shalt Have No Other Books Before me'
By A.J. Levin
Against the background of the Holocaust, Anouk Markovits chronicles the insularity and moral ambiguities involved in maintaining orthodoxy, both physical and spiritual.
[...] the tension between being People of the Book, and being forbidden to read, interpret or think. More »
The Jewish Daily Forward Caught Between Two Worlds
By Shoshana Olidort
The title of Anouk Markovits's English-language debut, "I Am Forbidden," refers both to the tragic climax of the book and to the broader world of this novel, a world defined by forbiddenness. The allure of the forbidden is ever-present in the story, which spans several generations of the Sterns, a Satmar family in Paris and New York. But this is less an exposé of religious fundamentalism, a là Deborah Feldman's "Unorthodox" and Pearl Abraham's "The Romance Reader," than it is a deeply felt account of people caught between worlds. More »
Lilith Leaving the Tribe
By Rachel Gordan
"A powerful fictional evocation...." More »
Markovits creates a vibrant, multilayered tale set within the conflicting obligations of faith and family.
The Montreal Gazette Anouk Markovits's Satmar saga explores the comforts and costs of belonging
By Elaine Kalman Naves
My late aunt Rozsi was a mikvah lady, an attendant at the ritual bath of an ultra-Orthodox congregation. I remember how she used to exclaim, "Oh, I could tell you such stories!" As a mikvah lady, she was privy to the secrets of the women of her community. Of course, she never divulged those secrets, even though she tantalized me with them.
Aunt Rozsi's stock in trade – the laws governing sex and ritual purity – lies at the heart of I Am Forbidden, Anouk Markovits's moving and fascinating four-generation saga about the Satmar Hasidim, the most isolated and insular of Jewish communities. The Satmar movement opposes all forms of secular culture and of Zionism. It began in 18th-century Hungary.... More »
JWeekly.com Off the Shelf
By Howard Freedman
What do we mean when we talk about summer reading? My own first association.... More »
The Canadian Jewish News A respectful critique of fundamentalism
By Joseph Serge, Arts Editor