Book Review

The Book of Separation


I hadn’t wanted to read The Book of Separation.  The synopsis describes it as the memoir of a woman who is raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, marries an Orthodox Jew, and, after finding the constraints of Orthodoxy increasingly stifling, decides to leave both her husband and it.  I didn’t grow up Orthodox, but we kept Kosher.  We didn’t write or knit or (God forbid!) work on the Sabbath.  We fasted on Yom Kippur.  For me, there were too many rules with too little solid reason behind them.  I didn’t want to relive my own growing up in a book.

But I only realized this after I bought The Book of Separation.  I started reading and stopped.  Started reading again, stopped again.

Then a good friend invited me to a meeting of her book group at which the author, who is local to our area and actually lives in the town where I grew up, was speaking.  So I retrieved the book and read it start to finish.

The voice of the author was what did it for me – and I’m not talking only about her conversation with this book club.  Tova Mirvis writes beautifully, thinks beautifully, acts beautifully.  I came to identify with her – more, to care about her so deeply that I hung on every word she wrote.  I rooted for her.  And yes, she went through emotional turmoil.  Separating from her marriage, her religion, her community, the support system she’d always known was not easy.

For me, reading this book turned out not so much a matter of reliving my childhood as identifying with this author.  For instance, she describes the first weekend after announcing her plans to separate.  It’s a Friday night, and she sits in the bathroom with the door closed, using her phone, which is a definite no-no for the Orthodox.  In my case, it was Yom Kippur.  I was sixteen and my “permanent” driver’s license arrived in the mail.  My father reminded me that since I couldn’t write on the holiday, I needed to wait until Yom Kippur was over to sign my name and make it legit.  I took that license, went up to my room, and signed it there and then.

My personal background notwithstanding, The Book of Separation is relevant to so many of the experiences we have, wherein we make a break from family tradition and have to face the consequences.  This is true in Tara Westover’s Educated as well.  Totally different religions and locations and set-ups – but the same angst.

Two great memoirs!

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