The Sisters Weiss

The Sisters Weiss by Naomi Ragen - 336 pages
Book Blurb:
In 1950’s Brooklyn, sisters Rose and Pearl Weiss grow up in a loving but strict ultra-Orthodox family, never dreaming of defying their parents or their community’s unbending and intrusive demands. Then, a chance meeting with a young French immigrant turns Rose’s world upside down, its once bearable strictures suddenly tightening like a noose around her neck. In rebellion, she begins to live a secret life – a life that shocks her parents when it is discovered. With nowhere else to turn, and an overwhelming desire to be reconciled with those she loves, Rose tries to bow to her parents’ demands that she agree to an arranged marriage. But pushed to the edge, she commits an act so unforgivable,  it will exile her forever from her innocent young sister, her family, and all she has ever known.
Forty years later, pious Pearl’s sheltered young daughter Rivka suddenly discovers the ugly truth about her Aunt Rose, the outcast, who has moved on to become a renowned photographer. Inspired, but naive and reckless, Rivka sets off on a dangerous adventure that will stir up the ghosts of the past, and alter the future in unimaginable ways for all involved.
My Review: 4 stars
Thank you Naomi Ragen for going back to your roots and sharing with us the innermost workings inside the ultra Orthodox. I read Jephte’s Daughter almost 20 years ago and this story, like that one from so long ago, will stay with me for some time. This books examines the ultra religious while also forcing the reader to feel the rules, constraints, blessings, order, respect and honor these people feel. Freedom is defined differently for the various characters and at what cost freedom comes is also paramount throughout the book. I felt Rose’s story got a little choppy at times for example I would’ve loved to learn more about her son and their relationship as it paralleled (or didn’t) to Hannah’s relationship with her mother. As much as I liked Rivka, her naivete, and her quest to get out of Williamsburg, I didn’t like the love triangle, plot twist that she was part of. It felt canned. I read this book in 3 days as I was constantly on edge to find out what was going to happen. If you like historical fiction and books relating to ultra Orthodox Judaism, you’ll definitely enjoy this book.
Quotes I liked:
- “The beginning of sin is sweet, but its end is bitter.”

- “She ate, tasting nothing, thinking about how only the first lie was hard. The rest came so naturally, it almost felt the same as telling the truth.”
- “Her defense had been simple. ‘I’m a mirror,’ she’d said in response. ‘If you don’t like your face, change it. Don’t complain to the mirror. I show what’s there. You create your world. I just document it.’ ”

- “She could not answer, her voice strangled by her education, upbringing, and beliefs. But then the vision of her body in the mirror at the mikveh returned to her. A song without words overwhelmed her heart, bursting though the man-made bands of social conventions, a force of nature contained in her blood that could not be held back. Its time had come, the rushing flow of her primitive blood instincts, which no man-made dam of rules and regulations could hold back. She dropped her arms to her sides and took a step toward him.”

- “The girl was a strange combination of pious fundamentalist mixed with dollops of adventurous sinner.”

- “He’s my husband. A woman has to follow her husband. A mother cannot teach a child to disrespect a father.”
 “Sometimes, Pearl, you have to break the rules.”
There was a brief silence, and then Pearl said, “Sometimes, rules are all that a person has to hold on to. When you let go, you drown.”
Tags: 2013, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Judaic, Sisters, Coming Of Age

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