Monday, February 2, 2015

I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits 2012 (a novel)

 "I Am Forbidden whips by, its extravagant narrative steadily cast with complicated, thoughtful characters." from a review by Susannah Meadows in the New York Times 5/15/2012

In writing I Am Forbidden,  Anouk Markovits who grew up in a family who were followers of the Jewish ultra-Orthodox Hassidic Satmar rebbe (rabbi), draws from her own past. The main characters of the novel are members of the Satmar community and, mirroring her own experience, one of the main characters leaves the sect and family to live in the world they shun.

The relatively short novel covers a lot of territory. Book I opens in 1939 with scenes in Szartmar, Maramures, and Sibiu, Transylvania. Book II takes place in Paris (where the author was raised) and covers ten years starting in 1947. Books III and IV take place in Paris in 1968 and in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Book V starts in 2005 in Manhattan and closes with a scene in Williamsburg in 2012.

Markovits has constructed an engaging plot that explores the strict life within the community through the lives and decisions of the various characters as they go about obeying their rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum, who his followers revere as an inspired interpreter of God’s word.  Markovits brings history to life in her weaving into her story some of the controversy surrounding what came to be known as the Kasztner train, which transported Hungarian Jews to Switzerland out of harm’s way in 1944. The Satmar rebbe Joel Teitelbaum was a passenger  on that train, and we listen as the moral and spiritual issues surrounding his escape are filtered through the belief system of whichever character is telling the story.

What is clear from reading this novel is that although the writer has herself left the fold, she tries to give both sides a fair hearing. She paints a complex portrait of generations in a family, their religious leaders, and their practices in an era that starts with World War II and the Holocaust and brings us up to contemporary times. She leaves room for her readers to contemplate issues of community, individuality, faith, choice, spiritual longings, moral quandaries and moral imperatives.

Since this is a novel, none of the author's family members are named.

Public Figures
Rezso Kasztner
Joel Teitelbaum
Rudolf Vrba
Alfred Wetzler

Szatmar (Satu Mare), Transylvania, Romania
Kolozvar (Cluj), Transylvania, Romania
Maramures, Romania
Kenyermezo, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary
Paris, France
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

To read an interview with the author, click here.
To read an article about the Kasztner controversy click here.