Kajagoojew

And here’s the long (…well, a few days) -awaited review of the second book I finished this past week. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in the recent past, and I think a lot of people will find something about it they’d like, so here’s a review for Hush, by Eishes Chayil (pseudonym).

Hush takes place between 2000 and 2008/2010 in Boro Park, the most Jewish section of New York. Gittel Klein, a 9-year-old girl in one of the most religiously observant of sects, witnesses some unspeakably horrible occurrences revolving around her best friend Devory Goldblatt, and 8-10 years later, as a young newlywed, her life changes forever when old feelings from the past bubble up to the surface, threatening to explode her marriage, her family, and her community.

(Wow, that’s like, the most concise plot synopsis I’ve ever written. Good job, laconic me.)

It was hard to put this book down. On Friday night, I willed myself to stay awake until the words on the page became mush, and I spent Saturday afternoon, when I should have been studying, engrossed in Gittel’s world for several hours outside on my new chaise on the sixth floor terrace. Eishes Chayil (real name: Judy Brown) weaves a compelling tale that effortlessly jumps from past to present and back again. The only real criticism I have is that Gittel’s sister is alternatively referred to as “Surie” and “Surela” so it took me until about halfway through the book to realize that they were the same person. The emotions that I felt while reading this book ranged from shock to horror to embarrassment to shame. It was as if Gittel was navigating her own way in this world populated by crazy people, from her marriage-obsessed parents to her painfully awkward husband to her teachers, who said some of the worst things.

Although I have not experienced any of the kinds of domestic/sexual abuses seen in Hush (for which I am thankful), I can only imagine that this book provides a hint of the soul-crushing experience it can be, not just on the victim but on those who love her, and those who don’t understand what is going on to their friend. What makes it worse is that Gittel had nowhere to turn to, and no one who would (or could) tell her the truths which she deserved to know. It makes it seem understandable, then, why she acts the way she does as a 19-year-old who has the wherewithal to go to the police; the code of silence under which she has been pulled has pervaded her worldview to the point that she has no frame of reference, and that if she has been lied to her whole life by her family, why wouldn’t those outside her family lie to her as well. What’s even sadder than what happens to Gittel and Devory is again, how those who are older and presumably wiser (just about everyone else in the story) is so blinded by status and marriage prospects that the welfare of their own little girls suffers. And with how the abuser’s story goes – well, let’s just say that it makes Brock Turner’s punishment look harsh by comparison.

Of course, there was predictable backlash from within the Jewish community, especially Orthodox, and Chabad Lubavitcher circles. However, having read some of those reviews, like this one from JewishMom.com, there might be a case of tunnel vision going on; it’s not about that at all. For what I think is a more accurate review, from a Jewish standpoint at least, is this one from Hella Winston of The Jewish Week.

I can’t speak for the Chabad or Hassidic communities, but as an Orthodox Jewish person and a human, I thought that this book was absolutely necessary, and regardless of the Jewish facts and descriptions, it’s the story of a community, their behavior, and the consequences that result from willful ignorance of evil and wrongdoing. Even if the author exaggerated some aspects of Boro Park Jewish life – so what? It’s fiction and she had a point to make. She didn’t go out to write some kind of abuse expose – she could if she would have wanted to, and that would be a completely different book – it’s a story she has lived with for quite a while, and fictionalized in an artful way without pointing fingers at any one group of people, with all the fake names and pseudonyms she uses, all the way up to her own name, for the first year of the book’s publication.

Go pick yourself up a copy of Hush. Come on, don’t be too shy-shy.

This book review was brought to you by bad 80s pun, some delicious strawberry sangria, and The Bachelorette.

Here’s some music.

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15 thoughts on “Kajagoojew

  1. This sounds mighty interesting. From the start, I guessed what happened when the character was a kid. Then you mentioned Brock and my guess was confirmed. I gotta ask, though, why you gave the author’s real name (unless the fact is already very exposed)…?

    Keep sharing your reviews!!!!

  2. I really like the sound of this book as I love reading about different cultures/traditions, etc. I also agree that it’s ok in fiction to exaggerate aspects of any culture – why not? And it clearly highlights important aspects in this case.

    • It is good, definitely put it on your list. And I don’t think that it’s that cartoonishly exaggerated, because as a Jewish person, I can imagine most of it pretty easily.

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