Synopses & Reviews
A family is torn apart by fierce belief and private longing in this unprecedented journey deep inside the most insular Hasidic sect, the Satmar.
Sweeping from the Central European countryside just before World War II to Paris to contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I Am Forbidden brings to life four generations of one Satmar family.
Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Gentile maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. As the two girls mature, Mila’s faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live.
When the two girls come of age, Mila marries within the faith, while Atara continues to question fundamentalist doctrine. The different choices the two sisters makes force them apart until a dangerous secret threatens to banish them from the only community they’ve ever known.
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.
"In this English-language debut, set around WWII, Markovits tells a story of miraculous happenings. A Hasidic boy, saved when his family is killed, in turn saves a girl whose family has tried to flee with their beloved rabbi. Returned to the remnants of the community, then separated, they reunite in Brooklyn, where the rabbi is rebuilding the Satmar community, replicating every tradition, ritual, and law of the old world. But miracles and rituals and laws even when designed to bring followers closer to God come at a price, and Markovits pays scrupulous attention to those as well. Tracing the Stern family from Transylvania to Paris and Brooklyn, she focuses on daughter Atara and adopted daughter Mila, closer than close, until Atara wants more than the Satmar world can offer. Atara leaves; Mila stays, desperately trying to accommodate belief and desire. When she comes up with a theological work-around, we not only sympathize but understand; it is, after all, no more tangled and self-serving than the explanation of how the rabbi made it out of Europe. Raised in a Satmar home, 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 (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
ANOUK MARKOVITS was raised in France in a Satmar home, breaking from the fold when she was 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. Her first novel, Pur Coton, written in French, was published by Gallimard. I Am Forbidden is her English-language debut. She lives in New York with her husband.