Unorthodox

Unorthodox

The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

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The instant New York Times bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman’s escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Carolyn Jessop’s Escape.

The Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism is as mysterious as it is intriguing to outsiders. In this arresting memoir, Deborah Feldman reveals what life is like trapped within a religious tradition that values silence and suffering over individual freedoms.

Deborah grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. It was stolen moments spent with the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott that helped her to imagine an alternative way of life. Trapped as a teenager in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew, the tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until she gave birth at nineteen and realized that, for the sake of herself and her son, she had to escape.
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Book Details:
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439187005 | 
  • February 2012
List Price $27.00

Video

Deborah Feldman discusses her memoir UNORTHODOX

Trapped in an Orthodox Jewish world of which she felt she did not belong, Deborah Feldman offers a groundbreaking look at what it was like to walk away from a culture both highly intriguing, and deeply mysterious.

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

On the eve of my twenty-fourth birthday I interview my mother. We meet at a vegetarian restaurant in Manhattan, one that announces itself as organic and farm-fresh, and despite my recent penchant for all things pork and shellfish, I am looking forward to the simplicity the meal promises. The waiter who serves us is conspicuously gentile-looking, with scruffy blond hair and big blue eyes. He treats us like royalty because we are on the Upper East Side and are prepared to shell out a hundred bucks for a lunch consisting largely of vegetables. I think it is ironic that he doesn’t know that the two of us are... see more
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In Search of My Secret Power


Matilda longed for her parents to be good and loving and understanding and honourable and intelligent. The fact that they were none of those things was something she had to put up with. . . .

Being very small and very young, the only power Matilda had over anyone in her family was brainpower.

—From Matilda, by Roald Dahl

My father holds my hand as he fumbles with the keys to the warehouse. The streets are strangely empty and silent in this industrial section of Williamsburg. Above, the stars glow faintly in the night sky; nearby,... see more

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Unorthodox includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Deborah Feldman. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Raised in the cloistered world of Brooklyn’s Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman struggled as a naturally curious child to make sense of and obey the rigid strictures that governed her daily life. From what she could read to whom she could speak with, virtually every aspect of her identity was tightly controlled. Married at age seventeen to a man she had only met for thirty minutes and denied a traditional education—sexual or otherwise—she was unable to consummate the relationship for an entire year. Her resultant debilitating anxiety went undiagnosed and was exacerbated by the public shame of having failed to serve her husband. In exceptional prose, Feldman recalls how stolen moments reading about the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott helped her to see an alternative way of life—one she knew she had to seize when, at the age of nineteen, she gave birth to a son and realized that more than just her own future was at stake.

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