Monday, January 25, 2016

Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home (by Leah Lax)

This memoir is fascinating but somewhat slow to get going. It begins with the author's wedding day and then flashes back to childhood and adolescence. Although it's well-written throughout, I found the background a bit too fleshed out. In particular, there are multiple stories that boil down to "I was a teenager and was drawn to Orthodox Judaism."  After a while, we really just want to get on with it -- what will married life be like?  How will her faith evolve?

It's when the narrative catches up to that wedding scene and beyond that it becomes fascinating. I've enjoyed reading the work of Orthodox Jewish women in the past, particularly Chaya Kurtz and blogs about Jewish infertility and the mikveh (yes, they exist -- or existed, anyway).  But this is a much more in-depth look at that life, and how that life can stifle a young person and force them to deny an essential part of their identity -- in Ms. Lax's case, her lesbianism.

Seeing her finally break free and come into her own towards the end of the book is deeply moving. The revelation by her sister, unlocking the key to why she may have been drawn to Orthodoxy in the first place, is well-timed. The writing is assured and lyrical, clearly influenced by the poetry that we see her discover during her marriage. And the evidence of this faith's misogyny and stifling patriarchy is maddening, although she lets us see much beauty in it too.

I'm glad I decided to pick this one up for the Read Harder Challenge. I recommend it, and recommend sticking with it if, like me, you find it slow going at first.

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