Book Review | Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

By Deborah Feldman

Simon & Schuster, 2012, 254 pp.

With this book review, The Whole Megillah happily ventures into adult literary. Unorthodox is an engrossing read by writer Deborah Feldman, a former member of the Satmar sect in Brooklyn, who takes us on her journey from  a young girl living with her grandparents to a wife and mother and then to a Sarah Lawrence student — a sort of delayed coming-of-age story.

The good stuff

  • Pure bravado — It undoubtedly took tremendous courage to write this memoir.
  • Lyricism — Sentences read like poetry, highly polished.
  • Evocative details — Writing teachers often say, “Dig deep.” That is exactly what Feldman has done.
  • Literary references — Citing the impact of secular books Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables on her psyche and worldview, brava!
  • Character transformation — Memoir works when there is transformation of the main character. While we know that’s going to happen in some way, Feldman’s metamorphosis  is slow, painful, dramatic — and memorable.

The not-so-good stuff

  • Foreshadowing — Not necessary. We know from the book’s subtitle Feldman’s going to make a break.
  • Unanswered questions — I wanted to know what the kabbalist meant by “There is a secret surrounding your birth. The blood ties are not blood.” (p. 196) I also wanted to know how it was possible to have custody of Yitzi when the author stated it would not be possible with a divorce.

Overall rating:

5.0 out of 5.0

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About Barbara Krasner

History writer and award-winning author Barbara Krasner writes Jewish-themed poetry, articles, nonfiction books, and novels for children and adults.
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9 Responses to Book Review | Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman

  1. I have just learned from a The Whole Megillah reader that there has been tremendous flack about this book and that many are calling it fiction and not memoir. How do you all feel about this?

  2. Nicole says:

    Oh please!! Are you telling me that you are just as culturally ignorant as the entire Simon & Schuster staff? There are gross inaccuracies with Jewish law, Hasidic tradition and simple facts. For example “We could only name the baby after deceased ancestors,” or, “aside from me, all of the cousins inherited Zeidy’s big nose and fire engine red hair.” She says Bubby bore 11 children, that makes for A LOT of cousins, couldn’t one editor say, “really Deborah, they are all red?”
    I am a friend of Deborah’s large extended family. They are wonderful people. Her Holocaust-survivor grandfather is still a practicing accountant. Not the old-country-neanderthal she portrays him as. Oh, and actually, not one redhead among the 50 or so cousins. Still a memoir? I read the book and was disappointed in the literary quality as well. I’d give her 5 stars for fabricating details. The book itself? A zero. (I teach high-school English)

  3. Susan says:

    Barbara, are you a lesbian too? The only place this girl dug deep is well, in her vagina!

  4. I am shocked by comments made that have condemned me personally for my review. One even resorted to calling me names I won’t repeat. Clearly, this is a controversial book.

  5. Good succinct review.

  6. Russ Kogut says:

    Great read. Loved it!

  7. Heap all the blame on her extreme grandparents says:

    Might be a great read for some, but NOT non-fiction.

    Is anyone out there DUMB enough to think the courts involved in Ms Feldmans’ parents’ divorce would have allowed her grandparents to switch her school for no reason?????? And that her secular mother would have allowed that?

    Dum de dum dum.

    Some people choose to forget that she was only in Satmar because she was kicked out everywhere else.
    Is it her grandparents fault that she misbehaved to the extreme? Lets heap all the blame on her extrme grandparents. It feels better that way.

  8. Shelly Rosen says:

    I Just finished reading the book and quite honestly could not put it down. It was a fantastic read, and whether or not you believe it to be true, it certainly was true from Deborah’s perception. Truth viewed by 2 different people can be very different. Not contradictory at all, simply an individual’s perception is colored by how he/she thinks and feels. Who are you to say that it’s not true even though you see it in a different light. The steak was delicious, the steak was awful, SAME STEAK, 2 different people see the same thing in 2 different and opposing ways….which one is the TRUTH? They both are!

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