I Am Forbidden

Written by Anouk Markovits
Review by Tamela McCann

In Anouk Markovits’s outstanding novel, the title words could apply to many scenarios within its pages: cultures, relationships, and expectations all provide constant obstacles to either rise above or muddle through. There are many delicate balancing acts, and through it all, Markovits’s characters shine through with determination and intelligence.

The novel begins in Transylvania with the destruction of young Hasidic Jew Mila’s family in the 1940s; she is taken in to be raised as part of the strictly religious Stern family as they escape into France. Mila becomes fast friends with her new “sister” Atara, but while Mila has no problem following the Hasidic lifestyle, Atara begins to rebel as the two grow older. Eventually Atara finds she can no longer endure the ideas of arranged marriage and women’s inferiority, and she disappears just as Mila marries. As time goes on, Mila faces her own crisis of faith as she must deal with an indiscretion that threatens her family for generations to come. The walls that have been built within their shared family must come down in order for it to be saved.

There is heartbreak and joy in equal amounts in I Am Forbidden, and it is easy to see why both young women make their choices. I was very impressed with the fairness with which the Hasidic lifestyle is presented, and I came away with a deeper understanding of both the culture and its women. The writing is lyrical and moving, and I felt completely immersed in the lives of these two beautiful women as they struggled with their decisions. Highly recommended.