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The Romance Reader
     

The Romance Reader

3.5 7
by Pearl Abraham
 

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Widely applauded when it was published last year, Pearl Abraham's debut novel The Romance Reader possesses that quality that distinguishes all great fiction—a fresh look at the universal truths that bind us together. Like Chaim Potok, who revealed the Orthodox Jewish world from a young man's perspective in The Chosen, Abraham explores new ground,

Overview

Widely applauded when it was published last year, Pearl Abraham's debut novel The Romance Reader possesses that quality that distinguishes all great fiction—a fresh look at the universal truths that bind us together. Like Chaim Potok, who revealed the Orthodox Jewish world from a young man's perspective in The Chosen, Abraham explores new ground, offering readers a tender story of a young Hasidic woman facing the challenges of growing up and the demands of her religion.

Rachel Benjamin is the daughter of a quixotic rabbi who dreams of building a synagogue in the secluded upstate New York bungalow colony where his family now lives. As the rabbi's eldest daughter, Rachel is expected to set an example for her five siblings and for the other girls in the community: she must wear thick opaque tights with seams; she is forbidden to wear a bathing suit in public; and she can never read books in English. But like all young adults, Rachel bristles at the stringent rules set by her family and her religion, rebelling in ways that become increasingly apparent. Whether sneaking sheer nylons in and out of the house or applying for an illicit library card that will allow her access to the romance novels that she loves, Rachel is determined to do things her way. Dreaming of a life that mirrors that of the heroines in her favorite novels, Rachel craves the independence she will never have as a Hasidic woman in an arranged marriage. And yet, as her impending marriage draws inevitably nearer, the pulls of family and faith weigh against the frightening and unknown world beyond her own.

This coming-of-age tale is both unusual and familiar—an intriguing, heartfelt look at the power of family and religion in the Hasidic community and the universal desire to leave the nest.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This story, dealing as it does with guilt and God, is about a journey as brave as Huck Finn's, as difficult as Holden Caulfield's, as stark as any I've read."
—Anne Roiphe, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Wonderful . . . sheds light on two intriguing mysteries: life within an ultra-Orthodox Jewish communiy and the bittersweet passage through female adolescence."
—Hilma Wolitzer, Newsday

"An assured, smoothly written book, narrated in a muted voice that seems to whisper secrets into the reader's ear."
The New York Times Book Reveiw

"Compelling throughout . . . we don't want to leave Rachel without knowing everything that happens to her for the rest of her life."
San Francisco Chronicle

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Abraham shows strong talent in her debut novel, the story of a young girl's coming-of-age in an ultraorthodox Hasidic home. The reader soon cares deeply about narrator Rachel, the eldest of six children, who yearns for some of the forbidden fruits of the secular world. Her rebbe father is another endearing character; he dreams of establishing a major synagogue and learning center even while he desperately looks for a 10th man for a minyan for his sparse congregation. Most of the story takes place in a suburban community that receives an influx of Hasidim in the summer months; for the rest of the year, the rebbe's family is the neighborhood curiosity. Rachel is a dutiful child who tries hard to please her mother, an angry woman who belittles her husband's dreams and wants to be part of one of Brooklyn's larger Hasidic enclaves. Rachel's glimpses of the larger world come from casual and often uncomfortable encounters with non-Jews and secular Jews in her town, but especially from romance novels, which she reads secretly. Her seemingly flagrant behavior (she refuses to wear seamed, opaque stockings, opting instead for seamless, and will not wear a cover-up over her bathing suit while teaching young girls to swim) brings shame to her family and endangers a marital opportunity for her brilliant younger brother. Despite her resolve to establish a more independent life, Rachel agrees to an arranged marriage, both to make her family happy and as a first step toward a new existence. When this match goes awry, Rachel's solution is both funny and bittersweet. Abraham's intense, sensitive prose and her ability to create vivid scenes and memorable characters augment this authentic, often disturbing, look at Hasidic home life and beliefs. Literary Guild featured alternate; author tour. (Aug.).
School Library Journal
YA-As the oldest child of Rebbe (Rabbi) Benjamin, Rachel, 12, is expected to follow the traditions of her ultra-Orthodox Chassidic family, and to set a good example for her six siblings. She must be modest, chaste, and obedient, even though, she is bursting to explore the world of her classmates. She wants to be a lifeguard, but wearing a bathing suit is ``improper.'' Her parents protect Rachel from straying from the right-and-righteous way, or bringing shame to herself and her family. Every issue becomes a battle of wills, with Rachel always pushing the limits and sidestepping the restrictions. She surreptitiously obtains some coveted romance novels, which are her only source of sex information prior to her arranged marriage at age 18. Rachel is a memorable character, capable, spirited, intuitive, and difficult. Her mother is brilliantly drawn as a complex, high-strung woman who wants the same kind of life for her daughter that has made her own so unhappy. This fast-paced, easy-to-read, coming-of-age story weaves Chassidic laws and customs into Rachel's first-person narrative. Students will sympathize with the girl's struggle to create a meaningful path that differs from that of her family and friends.-Judy Sokoll, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Hilma Wolitzer
"Wonderful...sheds light on two intriguing mysteries: life within an ultraorthodox Jewish community and the bittersweet passage through female adolescence." -- Newsday
Anne Roithe
"This story, dealing as it does with guilt and gog, is about a journey as brave as Huck Finn's, as difficult as Holden Colfield's, as stark as any I've read." -- Los Angeles Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781573225489
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/28/1996
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
713,420
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

Naomi Ragen
"I simply couldn't put the Romance Reader down. It is bravely told, both funny and heartbreaking."

Meet the Author

Pearl Abraham is the author of the novels The Romance Reader and Giving Up America, and the editor of the Dutch anthology Een Sterke Vrouw: Jewish Heroines in Literature. Her work has appeared in Brooklyn Noir, The Michigan Quarterly, Religion in America, Dog Culture: Writers on the Character of Canines, and Forward.

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The Romance Reader 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham is a book that was brought to my attention recently, while reading Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman. Unorthodox is the true story of Deborah's "escape" from a strict Hasidic (Jewish) community.  One of her inspirations for leaving was Pearl Abraham's novel, The Romance Reader. And it's interesting, too, because The Romance Reader really is the fictional version of Unorthodox. The title is sooo misleading: this book is NOT a romance.  The main character Rachel, is part of a Hasidic community and longs to leave it.  She wants romance, like the romance she reads about in the novels she secretly reads. Rachel is willing to bend the rules of her family, society, and religion, in order to get the life that she wants. I give Rachel (and Deborah) a lot of credit for breaking out of the box.  Have you ever had a time in your life where you've had to do the same? Thanks for reading, Rebecca @ Love at First Book
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I've ever read. I couldn't put it down. A riveting, well-written, poignant novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book, however the ending was rather week, I would have preffered a more conclusive ending¿I felt like she was just re-entering what she was trying to escape
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was very educational which was the same time I was growing up and had no idea that this kind of life existed for a young Hasidic Jewish girl. Very enlightening. All the details about the way they marry and what they had to endure. I wasn't happy with the ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My daughter lent me this book when I finished 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay' while visiting her and needed something to read on the flight home. I found it joyless, tiresome and disjointed and regretted having spent the time. Character development was minimal if not absent.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed 'watching' Rachel fight for what her heart yearns while living within the strict laws of her religion. This book makes for quick reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was an interesting novel because the characters and world it was set in is so different from the one I live in. The main character is constantly battling against her families strict religious beliefs. I was a bit disappointed in the ending.