I Am Forbidden

I Am Forbidden

by Anouk Markovits


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A family is torn apart by fierce belief and private longing in this unprecedented journey deep inside the most insular Hasidic sect, the Satmar.

In 1939, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard. He is taken in by a Gentile maid, who raises him as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, whose parents are killed in the wake of Nazi deportations. Josef helps Mila find safety with Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. The two girls form a fierce bond, but as they mature, Atara feels trapped by the restraints of Jewish fundamentalism, while Mila embraces her faith and her role as a respected young woman in her community. When Josef returns and chooses Mila to be his bride, she eagerly strives to be an ideal wife, but a desperate choice after ten years of childless marriage threatens to separate her from everything—and everyone—she cherishes.

A beautifully crafted, emotionally gripping story of what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law, and centuries of tradition collide, I Am Forbidden announces the arrival of an extraordinarily gifted new voice and opens a startling window on a world long closed to most of us, until now.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307984746
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 02/26/2013
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 751,893
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

ANOUK MARKOVITS grew up in France, in an ultra-orthodox Satmar home. She attended a religious seminary in England instead of high school, and left the fold at the age of nineteen to avoid an arranged marriage. She went on to receive a bachelor of science from Columbia University, a master of architecture from Harvard, and a PhD in Romance Studies from Cornell. Translations of I Am Forbidden are forthcoming in a dozen countries. Markovits's first novel, Pur Coton, written in French, was published by Gallimard.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“The wonder of this elegant, enthralling novel is the beauty Ms. Markovits unearths in the Hasidic community she takes us into. Ms. Markovits, big-hearted and surprising, tenderly captures the complexities of adulthood for the one who stayed.... I Am Forbidden whips by, its extravagant narrative steadily cast with complicated, thoughtful characters.” –Susannah Meadows, The New York Times

“Markovits makes her stamp on the literary world with an ambitious, religiously-centered debut. [T]his ambitious, revelatory novel richly rewards your efforts and heralds a promising new writer.” –Entertainment Weekly

“A captivating tale.” People
“Markovits’s heroines are disenfranchised but resourceful, possessing an innate spirituality, despite, or perhaps because of, the freedom denied them.” –New Yorker 

“A lyrical novel about obedience, rebellion and tragedy by an author who grew up in the Hasidic community she writes about. With poetic grace, she succeeds at depicting the culture from the inside out, conveying the way in which a life of limitation and law can provide a bulwark of meaning.” –Ilana Teitelbaum, Huffington Post

“Anouk Markovits’s I Am Forbidden contrasts the fates of a Hasidic family’s two daughters, one who breaks with tradition to pursue a life of intellectual and emotional freedom, the other who cleaves to convention only to find her childless marriage is leading her to consider a course of action that falls well outside her religious beliefs.” –Megan O’Grady, Vogue

“[A] story that will resonate with anyone who's ever bucked family expectations to find their own way of life.” –Oprah.com

“Markovits brings off this balancing act with skill and daring. Everyone is given their due. Instead of disrespect or easy judgment, there is generosity of spirit and delicacy of the pen… This is a book absorbing as any midrash and as enlightening as a library. I feel its contribution immediately and powerfully, and am happy to have given my time to it. I recommend you do the same.” –Unpious

“A deeply felt account of people caught between worlds.” –The Jewish Daily Forward, Shoshana Olidort

  “In Anouk Markovits’s outstanding novel, the title words could apply to many scenarios within its pages: cultures, relationships, and expectations all provide constant obstacles to either rise above or muddle through. There are many delicate balancing acts, and through it all, Markovits’s characters shine through with determination and intelligence.” Historical Novel Society

“Tracing the Stern family from Transylvania to Paris and Brooklyn, [Markovits] focuses on daughter Atara and adopted daughter Mila, closer than close, until Atara wants more than the Satmar world can offer. Markovits plays fair: the believers are not stupid; their harsh world has beauty. We dwellers in the modern world know what “should” happen, but Markovits shows why, for those in the other world, it’s not that simple.” Publishers Weekly

“Markovits creates a vibrant, multilayered tale set within the conflicting obligations of faith and family." Booklist

“Orphaned during the Holocaust, two ultra-orthodox Jews bound by love and faith are driven apart by the same forces in a sensitive consideration of tradition and commitment. [A] sober, finely etched scrutiny of extreme belief set in a female context.” Kirkus

“Markovits immediately draws the reader in to a family saga of faith and longhidden secrets, set among the Hasidic Jews of eastern Europe and spanning four generations.  A stunning novel; highly recommended.” Library Journal  

I Am Forbidden moved me deeply. It brings many things wonderfully to life, including parts of history that I thought I knew but I now know better. Above all, it makes vivid the great comfort of strict religion, but also its sometimes painful confinement. I was swept away when I first read it. Now I am enlarged after reading it again.” 
─John Casey, author of National Book Award winner Spartina and Compass Rose
“It is the rare novel that manages to be both achingly sympathetic and formidably honest. I Am Forbidden is both of these, and much more. Anouk Markovits's exploration of the obligations of faith—and the equally pressing obligations of the loving heart and inquisitive mind—is riveting.”
─Tova Mirvis, author of The Ladies Auxiliary and The Outside World
“In this gem of a book Anouk Markovits takes a reader to an exotic world, portrayed with such warmth and precision that the journey feels perfectly real and the characters become your intimate friends.”
─Lara Vapnyar, author of There Are Jews in My House
“In her intense and appealing novel on the Satmar pious enclave, migrating after the Holocaust from Transylvania to Williamsburg, Anouk Markovits scrutinizes with a sharp eye both sides of the human conflict between free choice and limitless obedience. It's a fierce and sometimes tragic struggle for happiness through belonging to a community closed in its tradition or through independence and individuality—involving mind and soul, integrity and ideal, hope and despair. The revelatory, well-structured narrative, focuses on a topic that goes beyond Jewish, Christian or whatever religious or non-religious dogma to the very core of many ardent tensions in our troubled modernity.”
─Norman Manea, author of The Hooligan’s Return

“This novel is truly a seminal work on the topic of Jewish Fundamentalism. With unparalleled detail and poignant storytelling, this saga of a Satmar family explores and debunks the myths upon which the extreme version of Judaism we know today was founded, and it does so with a resounding clang. I found myself gripping the edge of my seat quite a few times, holding my breath while I waited to see how the characters in this novel would find self-determination. People will read this novel both because it is a beautiful story told in a magical setting, and because it completely unravels a world heretofore tightly enclosed. I extend my deepest gratitude and admiration for Anouk Markovits, who so skillfully brought my world to life, and abolished the mysteries that remained of my childhood.”
–Deborah Feldman, author of New York Times bestseller Unorthodox

Customer Reviews

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I Am Forbidden: A Novel 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Pistachio77 More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful first book I believe for this author that kept me glued to my chair wanting more. I have to admit that I never read a book so fast in a matter of hours. It was quite an interesting story line and felt that I was in the characters shoes through their flood of emotions. By reading the novel's description, I would have passed on this read. I am sure glad that I second guessed myself to completing this novel and receiving a lesson in history that surpasses time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was instantly hooked. I dont like when people talk about the characters and the plot of a book, so I will simply say that if you are somewhat familiar with Orthodox Jewish culture and you love a well written book, this is for you. I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is barely a novella sample chapter is almost one fourth book please nook start a catalog review blurb and include text page count besides book page count. librsry of congress subject card too. Remember those? Page Counter
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
excellent book, could not put it down, shows what religion does to ones soul
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written story of a particular character, at a particular time. I especially enjoyed seeing a very personal look at Jewish culture and history.
CMKmom More than 1 year ago
This is a story about a fundamentalist Jewish community right after WWII- the story is about how the children were raised and the pain this fundamentalist religious sect caused the women with their edicts. The way women were treated was just awful with the men having full control of everything or else. There are small parts where concentration camps were mentioned. Many of the main characters lost parents and siblings. The story followed a couple of these children into adulthood. Along with the pain of loss was the dogmatic religious parts - those groups chose to not deviate from the strictness of their sect and it seemed to me they made life so much more difficult for these people. First it was the fear of WWII, and then pleasing the rabbis. I would have loved this book to be much longer - I just lived in the pages as the story progressed.
Florinda on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As eastern Europe is fractured during World War II, the Satmar Rebbe of Transylvania makes a miraculous escape to America and begins building a new community in the Williambsurg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York; meanwhile, those of his Transylvanian followers who survive the war are dispersed throughout Europe. Zalman Stern, his wife Hannah, and their growing family end up in Paris, where they are eventually joined by two young orphans. Josef was the only survivor of the brutal murder of his family, rescued and raised as her son by their Christian maid; several years later, Josef rescues Mila after her parents are killed chasing after a train--the very train on which the Satmar Rebbe is leaving. When both children end up in the care of the Sterns, Mila remains with them to be raised as a sister to their eldest daughter, Atara, while Josef is dispatched to Williamsburg to study with the Rebbe himself. Josef and Mila will be reunited a few years later when their marriage is arranged. The Sterns' daughter Atara will find herself on a different path; her curiosity about the secular world surrounding her family in Paris raises questions she is emphatically discouraged from pursuing--but she can't ignore them. While Mila and Josef become more deeply entrenched in the Satmar way of life, Atara will become estranged from it...and ultimately from her family.The title of I Am Forbidden can be interpreted several ways within the context of the novel. Women in the Satmar sect are forbidden from furthering their educations or working; they have no role outside the family. Their most important job is producing children, and one of their greatest responsibilities related to that job is the preservation of "family purity"--the rules that govern sexual relations between husbands and wives. Sex is for procreation only, and a wife must carefully track her cycles. There are several days each month when her husband is forbidden to touch her; at the end of that time, she partakes in a ritual bath and returns home to give her husband a sign that he is now "permitted" to be with her. This "permitted" time should coincide with her most fertile days, and if all goes well, she won't have "unclean" days again for months; however, pregnancy will make her "forbidden" again. A wife who does not produce children has failed at her job, and after ten years, her husband may divorce her.It can be hard for a modern woman to understand how any woman in this day and age could accept living like this...which is why it's key to understand that living like this is a deliberate rejection of anything "modern," and can only be perpetuated within a community that chooses to close itself off from the world. Exposure to unsanctioned ideas from the outside can raise questions; questioning can undermine an individual's belief, and individual questioners may ultimately break down a community of believers. Questioning is why Atara Stern had to leave her family behind.Markovits has Atara leave the story behind along with her family, as the remainder of the novel focuses on Mila. Her story is probably more interesing from the outside because her life is so unfamiliar, but at the same time, the narrowness of Mila's life makes her story more challenging to tell. While Markovits rises to that challenge for the most part, when she tries to take Mila out of her life's confines, the novel takes a turn that I thought was unfortunately soap-operatic. Although I continued to be pulled along by the story, my appreciation for it diminshed a bit over the last third of the book.Anouk Markovits' writing is lovely, and she has attempted some ambitious storytelling in I Am Forbidden. The novel spans decades and explores a way of life that seems to exist alongside our own time rather than of it. It touches on matters historical, political, and religious while focusing on one family's story. I don't think all of it worked, but I appreciate it when an author reaches the way this one does; and whi
knittingmomof3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits is a richly complex look into the lives of four generations of family members within the Satmar sect, a faction of Judaism I was completely unaware of, making I am Forbidden all that more intriguing a book. Markovits deftly weaves together the lives of her characters, what it means to live within the Satmar sect as well as the consequences if the rules are not strictly adhered to. My reasoning for giving this beautifully written book four stars, rather than five is because I would have preferred to have the sections longer, I felt as though there was so much more to be explored. That said, Markovits characters and writing style are exceptional and I look forward to reading more by this author. Disclaimer: I received a copy of I am Forbidden through the Amazon VINE Program, for review.
mkboylan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I Am Forbidden by Anouk MarkovitsThis novel elicited a few different and emotional reactions from me.  First of all, I had some difficulty following the plot initially, I believe due to my unfamiliarity with the history and the foreign (to me) names.  The beauty of the writing, paired with my personal beliefs, caused the varied emotional responses.  Initially, I felt increased compassion for the characters and increased understanding of the Hasidic experience.  As the story continued, I experienced anger about the way the characters in this religious community treated each other and women.  I hope that my increased compassion will win out, but it may take some time.  I think the behavior that bothered me was due to their own experiences of trauma.  Some of those experience seem to me to be almost impossible to overcome, and yet many did. It is also interesting to think of how different my personal reaction would be at different points of time.  Right now, I'm a little tired of hearing women put down daily in the news, so don't have much patience for it in my reading.This book IS an interesting and I believe realistic, look at the development of religious beliefs based on life experiences in addition to time and place of birth.  If you are interested in that topic or in Jewish history, I highly recommend it.  I learned a lot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't understand philistines who give a beautiful work like this a low rating because it they didn't feel they got their money's worth, as if they're paying by the word. What a sad way to evaluate art. If you have a gripe with B&N for not posting page length, take it up with them instead of dragging down the rating of a fine book. This was so good I bought it in hard cover so I could share it with a friend.
redhood More than 1 year ago
A sad story of what happens when any religion allows itself to go to extremes. Illuminating story draws you in to the final surprise endind. Secrets are dangerous.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have a great curiosity about other cultures, especially the religions and ways of life. I knew next to nothing about Hasidic Jews before reading this book, and was inspired after reading to continue a little more research into their beliefs and "rules". The story was engaging and well written.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story was decent but the book was boring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
FrancesNC More than 1 year ago
A heart-wrenching exploration of human longings and ambiguity, following four generations of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family from early World War II in central Europe to 21st century New York City. Rich in details about a highly insular religious community, it offers much for intellectual and historic consideration but is, first and foremost, a deeply engrossing tale of love and personal conflict. The story begins like many tales of Holocaust victims and survivors, but quickly involves the reader in both the specific details of a Hasidic sect and the universals of human motives and emotions. This is a slim book and a fast read, but it stays in the mind and heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I Am Forbidden is the story of two Hasidic Jewish girls raised together as sisters in WWII Europe. Mila, made an orphan by the atrocities committed against her people in that war, is delivered to Atara's family by another war-made orphan, Josef, a Hasidic Jew being hidden by a Christian woman. As the years pass, Mila's faith intensifies, in part because she hopes it will lead to her reunification with her parents. She and Josef find their way to each other again and marry. In those same years, Atara's faith falters, despite her intense bond with Mila, and the girls' relationship is broken. A secret eventually returns them to each other. The persecution of Jews during WWII and the Hasidism figure prominently in the novel and the reader learns quite a bit throughout its course about Hasidism, in particular, as it is an insular community about which most readers will, given its insular nature, know rather little. (The author was born into, and raised in, a Hasidic sect.) The reason I think the novel succeeds so well is that though its conflicts are situated in a particular time among a particular group of people, the questions it is exploring are universal: when we find ourselves trying to fend off or recover from the worst of life's cruelties and blows, what will sustain and heal us? What do we do when those things are in conflict? I Am Forbidden is a thoughtful, historical novel, written by a seemingly knowledgeable and sensitive author. It was a pleasure to be in the world she created, even if it offered no easy answers to the questions it presented.
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