Returning to familiar terrain in her third novel (after Jephte's Daughter and Sotah), Ragen again examines the lives of ultra-orthodox Jews and the severe consequences that can befall even the most faithful when they take a serious, albeit human misstep. Most of the story takes place in a Brooklyn neighborhood resembling Borough Park, although, as in her previous books, dramatic fanfare occurs in Israel, too. Pious Tamar both adores and is in awe of her warm and brilliant husband, Josh. She is looking forward to an intimate evening after her ritual visit to the mikvah (here Ragen offers a tediously detailed description about Jewish conjugal laws), but that evening she is raped by a black man. She does not tell her husband about the attack, and when she discovers she is pregnant, she does not abort the fetus, because she is not sure whether the rapist or Josh is the father. In trying to make the reader understand why Tamar would choose silence and sustain the pregnancy, Ragen flashes back to Tamar's youth, particularly her relationship with two friends who play pivotal roles throughout her life: Hadassah, the beautiful, rebellious daughter of the neighborhood's primary religious leader, and Jenny, who comes from a secular background but easily adapts to Orthodox observance. The interplay between the girls as they take tentative steps into the secular world of the late 1960s provides some charming scenes, and the final chapters prove moving and dramatic when later consequences of Tamar's deceptive silence shatter her family's life. While Ragen is an able storyteller and handles dialogue deftly, her plots are becoming hackneyed. It's an insular and provincial world that she has chosen to portray, and here she adds little that is new or eye-opening to the reader.
Ragen (Jepthe's Daughter) continues to describe life in the ultra-orthodox Jewish communities of the United States and Israel. After being raped, Tamar, the young wife of a brilliant rabbi, chooses to conceal the crime. Soon, she discovers that she is pregnant and wrestles with a moral decision she is ill equipped to make. "What's not nice we don't show" is the modus operandi of Tamar's world, a creed to which she adheres until 20 years later when she must step forward or see innocent lives destroyed. The author paints a picture of a rigid, unyielding people for whom true tolerance and understanding is a luxury only the most saintly can afford, and she juxtaposes the more worldly modern orthodox as a positive alternative. Although Tamar is not a truly lovable heroine, and her transformation is difficult to accept, the author's fluid writing and fascinating descriptions of an exotic community will make this an attractive title for public libraries. —Andrea Caron Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS
The rape of a young, ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman and her ultimate redemption are at the very heart of Ragen's latest novel....The author handles this complex and moving story with a deft touch as Tamar's outwardly perfect life must finally be reconciled with her long-kept secret. —Alice Joyce
Classic urban-Jewish myth replaces Bible stories in this latest chaste offering from Ragen (Sotah, 1992). Ultra-Orthodox, 21-year-old Tamar Finegold is raped by a black man while babysitting her nephew. Unwilling to become an object of pity and gossip in her tightly knit Brooklyn community, Tamar resolves to hide the fact from her family, friends, and neighbors. She even keeps the incident a secret from her pious husband, Josh, afraid that he will divorce her if Jewish law commands him to. When Tamar discovers that she is pregnant, however, she must reevaluate. The child could be the rapist's, but it might also be Josh's, with whom she slept that very same night. After soul-searching and sleeplessness, Tamar finally confides in her two best friends from childhood: Hadassah Mandlebright, the fallen only daughter of the revered Kovnitzer Rebbe, and born-again Jew Jenny Douglas. The three women meet at Hadassah's apartment in Manhattan and Tamar leaves the next morning determined to go through with her pregnancy. Eight months later she gives birth to a white child, Aaron. Tamar believes that the episode is finished; for the next 20 years she lives a spotless—if troubled—life, giving birth to two more children, becoming a respected matron in the community. But when Aaron's wife is punished for Tamar's sins of omission, Tamar must again make a decision, this time one her conscience can live with. Although Ragen exposes herself to charges of racism here, the black rapist is more important as a plot device than a representative of his race. More central is Ragen's typically harsh judgment of the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, although she does create some saintly religious characters. As in Sotah, Ragen's moral is that fulfillment can be found outside the rigid boundaries of community but within the teachings of the commandments. Cliche-ridden and predictable, but also strangely affecting.
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