There is always something about an ultra-religious insular community that always seems to intrigue the less religious, more modern secular world.
Naomi Regan has made a career of writing about women in the ultra-orthodox Jewish communities of Israel and New York. I’ve read Jephte’s Daughter, Sotah, and the Sacrifice of Tamar, but it’s been a few years since I’ve delved into the her novels.
Her latest novel, The Sisters Weiss, tells the story of two sisters and the very different paths their lives take.
Growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the 1950’s, Rose and Pearl Weiss are raised in a loving ultra-orthodox family. At the beginning of the book, Rose is the good girl, favored by her parents over her younger trouble making sister. When Rose meets Michelle, she is exposed to the outside world and begins to slowly rebel from her parents and her community. The night before Rose is supposed to marry a boy chosen for her, she runs away, affecting everyone in her family, including her younger sister.
40 years later, Pearl’s youngest daughter, Rivka is eager to experience the world and runs away. Her mysterious and unknown Aunt Rose seems to be the best person to run to. Rose has been exiled from her family. Because of Rivka’s actions, both Rose and Pearl must not only deal with the world they were raised in, but also the consequences of their actions.
Since it’s been a number of years since I’ve read Ms. Ragen’s books, I’ve forgotten what an incredible writer she is. These characters could be very stereotypical, but they aren’t. The relationship between the sisters seemed real, no different than any other sibling relationship. I could understand Rose’s rebellion, but I also understood Pearl’s need to cling to the life and the beliefs that she was raised with.
You don’t have to be religious or Jewish to enjoy this novel. I highly recommend it.