The cover of this book reads “What happens when you are betrayed by those you trust the most?” Who can pass up a book with a caption like that? Honestly, usually I can. Truthfully, the cover of this one didn’t really do it for me, but luckily I’d heard enough buzz about it that I went ahead and requested it through interlibrary loan (greatest system EVER).
Gittel is a young woman who has grown up within the comfort and safety of her Chassidic Jewish community of Borough Park. She has learned to be pious, and longs for the day she will marry and her soul will find its’ match. The one dark spot in Gittel’s life is the memory of her best friend, Devory, who died when they were 9. Gittel knows there is more to what happened to Devory than she was told, but whenever she tries to uncover the truth, she is met with silence, fear and a healthy dose of denial. The book alternates between present day and Gittel’s memories of Devory and all that happened to her, and her story is heart-wrenching and joyful all at the same time. The author still lives within the Chassidic community but felt it so important that this story be told, she has chosen the pseudonym Eishes Chayil, meaning Woman of Valor.
What struck me about this book is that it could be a gritty, terrifying book. What happened to Devory is horrifying and should not go unnoticed. But Chayil has written an account of violence in such a way that the horror of the actions of a few do not take away from the love, morality and piety of the many. She balances the heart and soul of the Chassidic community with the unspeakable acts that sometimes occur within their sheltered neighborhoods. I think it’s important that she maintain this balance because unspeakable acts like domestic abuse, child abuse, etc. happen in every community, and every community values morality, piety and family. This account does not allow the reader to dismiss the Chassidic community as evil or bad, but forces us to recognize the atrocities that happen everywhere. By presenting the story in this manner, she has allowed us to see the thorns of the rose. And the strength of her family and loved ones in the end moved me to tears. Gittel and her family represent the good of the Chassidic community, and really, any faith community – following God (or whatever deity you worship), loving those around you and doing what is right and good, even if it’s difficult sometimes.
Here are some other great reviews of this book: