Friday, December 12, 2008

I'll probably never be an Orthodox Jew

Or a Muslim, raised by Sufis in Morocco. I'll certainly never be a conjoined twin. I didn't live through the Dust Bowl, or endure the hardships of rural life in the previous century. I don't know how many people I'll meet in heaven, or if I'll ever live in another country.

But I have experienced all these things, through the magical power of literature! It always amazes me to hear people say, "Oh, I don't read." Or even, "I only read NON-fiction." What's wrong with these people, I ask you? (I know I'm pretty much preaching to the choir here. Heh.) What riches they're missing. And to you non-fiction only readers, here's a tip: something doesn't have to be strictly "true" to be full of "truths." (See, for example: the Bible. Sorry, fundamentalists.)

So, what am I getting at here? Well, this is my rambling and round-about way of saying that last week in the mail I received my free (in exchange for reviewing it on my blog) copy of "Who By Fire," by Diana Spechler, thanks to Lara of Red Red Whine fame. (Thanks, Lara and Diana!) I continued racing through "The Girls" (see above re: conjoined twins) and then dived into it.

And the verdict? Thumbs up.

Basically, the story is of a nominally Jewish family, struggling to deal with the tragic disappearance of a 6-year-old child, some 13 years earlier. The family members have reacted to the loss in widely varying ways; the remaining daughter, Bits, is very promiscuous, while the son, Ash, has immersed himself completely into Orthodox Judaism, going so far as to enroll in a yeshiva in Israel. The father has abandoned the family, and the mother has resisted all attempts to convince her to "move on," a process made more difficult by the fact that Alena's body was never found.

Until, finally, it seems...it has been. The mother tells Bits that Alena's remains have been found, and lays upon her the responsibility for bringing her brother home from Israel, where, she is convinced, he has become a member of a cult. And off the story goes.

I won't spoil any more of the plot, but let's just say that, while their lives are not neatly tied up in little bows, the ending does leave you with a feeling of hope, that these people just might be able to move forward to happier, healthier lives.

It's a very good read (I actually stayed up pretty late last night finishing off the remaining chapters), but also...it made me think. (Gasp!) About the sometimes blurry line between "religious community" and "cult." How overly strict adherence to religious dogma can leave you neither "holy" nor "whole." How guilt can consume and paralyze. The dangers of attempting to fill a hole in unhealthy ways. And here's a line straight from the book: "Here's what happens when you try to rescue someone. You find out you're the one who need rescuing."

Summation? I found it both entertaining and thought-provoking, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

As, indeed, I look forward to a lifetime of more reading, period. 'Cause, seriously, "I don't read"? Can't get behind that.

8 comments:

3carnations said...

My husband claimed he only read non-fiction from the moment I met him. Then this year he picked up a novel, and he has been reading fiction (mostly) ever since.

I, on the other hand, MOSTLY read fiction.

Lara said...

Oh, I'm so glad you liked it, too! I am interviewing the author tonight when I'm in NY! :)

thecoconutdiaries said...

I'm starting to think Lara has us in some intricate pyramid book scheme! This book is next on my list and I'm glad to know what I can expect. Thanks for the review.

BTW- My friend set me up with this guy that was all "I only watch the news and read non-fiction books". It was a bit of strain to keep myself from throwing my arms around him and shouting "Take me now, you boring, unimaginative, doofus!"., but I resisted. Because I'm THAT strong.

Diana Spechler said...

Thanks, Liz! I'm so glad you liked my book!

Stinkypaw said...

Reading is the fastest, cheapest way to explore all the world has to offer from anywhere! The only limits are those we create ourselves: I truly believe that!

Stefanie said...

I've met lots of people who brag that they don't watch television, but people who brag that they read only nonfiction? Gah. I'm sort of glad I don't know any of those.

I'm thinking I'll have to read this book. Lara and Sognatrice both have nothing but lovely things to say about it.

Sauntering Soul said...

This sounds wonderful! Once I finish the stack of books I already have on my bedside table to read I may put this on my reading list. Oh who am I kidding? I am a sucker for books and I'll probably go buy this one long before I finish my huge stack of to-be-read books.

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