Book review: This is not a Love Story by Judy Brown

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  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (July 28, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316400726
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316400725

A razor-sharp, hilarious, and poignant memoir about growing up in the closed world of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

The third of six children in a family that harks back to a gloried Hassidic dynasty, Judy Brown grew up with the legacy of centuries of religious teaching, and the faith and lore that sustained her people for generations.

But her carefully constructed world begins to crumble when her “crazy” brother Nachum returns home after a year in Israel living with relatives. Though supposedly “cured,” he is still prone to retreating into his own mind or erupting in wordless rages. The adults’ inability to make him better – or even to give his affliction a name – forces Judy to ask larger questions: If God could perform miracles for her sainted ancestors, why can’t He cure Nachum? And what of the other stories her family treasured?

Judy starts to negotiate with God, swinging from holy tenets to absurdly hilarious conclusions faster than a Talmudic scholar: she goes on a fast to nab coveted earrings; she fights with her siblings at the dinner table for the ultimate badge of honor (“Who will survive the next Holocaust?”); and she adamantly defends her family’s reputation when, scandalously, her parents are accused of having fallen in love—which is absolutely not what pious people do.

For all its brutal honesty about this insular community, This is Not a Love Story is ultimately a story of a family like so many others, whose fierce love for each other and devotion to their faith pulled them through the darkest time in their lives.

Buy the book:    Amazon   Barnes & Noble

judy2About the author:    Judy Brown (pen name, Eishes Chayil) was raised in a world of Chassidic schools, synagogues, and summer camps and is a direct descendant of some of the major founders and leaders in the Chassidic world. She received her MFA from Bar Ilan University in Israel, and has been a writer of both Jewish fiction and non-fiction for over 10 years. She lives in New York City with her three children.

In 2010 her novel “Hush” was published under the pseudonym Eishes Chayil. Written through the voice of a child, Hush tells the haunting story of sexual abuse and suicide within the cloistered enclave of the ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn. Due to the sensitive nature of the subject she chose to publish the book anonymously.

A year after the book was released, Judy revealed her identity as the author in an article for The Huffington Post.  Threats from within the community, and the murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky at the hands of another Orthodox Jew in Boro Park, sparked her disclosure. Judy’s distinctive background and experiences give her writing a unique voice worth listening to, one whose outrage never obscures her perspective or her humor.

Connect with the author:   Website   Facebook

REVIEW:

What immediately came to mind while reading this book is how similar it felt to another story – To Kill a Mockingbird.  Judy, as an eight year old, tries to explain why her brother is “crazy”.  She draws upon a wild imagination as well as teachings from her religious beliefs to try to come to terms with what is happening to her family because of her brother.

I was curious as to why the book was entitled “This is not a love story“. Falling in love with a future spouse was not considered acceptable in the Chassidic community and the author, as a child, constantly worried that this was the reason her family was cursed with a crazy brother.   She was worried that her father “liked” her mother too much, and that her mother “liked” her son (the author’s brother) too much as she was unwilling to send him to an institution.  The concept of love was foreign to her. However, as the story progresses, we see how much love this family truly had toward each other as they struggled to care for each other, especially when things come to a climax when her brother becomes uncontrollable.

I waited a long time before I could read this book and once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down.  The storytelling was colourful and I really felt like I was in the head of an eight year old.  This little memoir continues on for several years and as Judy grows up she learns the true meaning of love and no longer feels threatened by it.

I highly recommend this fascinating book.

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