This was incredibly interesting read and one exquisite debut novel. Evan Fallenberg has indeed created (as the blurb say as well) “a uniquely drawn protagonist”. The book tells the story about Joseph, an educated Israeli man, professor of literature Harvard graduated, a husband and father of five … who fells in love with a rabbi.
Now, this novel indeed won several literary awards reserved for GLBT literature such are 2009 Stonewall Prize for Fiction or 2008 Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction ( besides those it was also 2008 National Jewish Book Award Finalist) and somehow it is expected that the story fill follow love and struggle of those two men in highly traditional, Orthodox Jewish society (especially since one of them is nothing less but rabbi!) and that would probably be an interesting story. However Fallenberg decided to jump of the stereotypes and leave them to others. His novel has erased that frontier that divides literature (in this case GLBT from … I don’t know, “hetero” I guess). With one quite unexpected twist, story that might have been more less predictable becomes one incredibly unique reading experience. I’m really against those separations in literature (and art generally) and I believe those GLBT awards are disserving this great novel because many wouldn’t even consider reading book that won some gay lit award. But this is certainly NOT gay novel (here I must admit I’m not quite sure what gay novel suppose to mean by default. Hopefully the only criteria is not to have main character homosexual)
This was enormously thought provoking story. You’re feel empathy and understanding towards one character and then the consequences of those actions would strike you and in the very next moment you’ll start asking yourself “What are you talking? This can’t be right!” until you realize “there is no right and wrong! That’s human nature, such an unpredictable burden or jewel we all have”. And that’s what novel is all about: Human nature!
It’s not easy to comprehend that one would decide to leave his life and all those people that was part of it (including their own children) because they realize they aren’t what they thought the were. That’s not right, right? Well wrong! But when I say that “wrong” I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just refuse to judge. Of course there is a little bugger named responsibility but then what about responsibility to ourselves? There is another bugger named consciousness but then how can you be scrupulous with others if you’re betraying yourself? And of course there is, usually enormous price that you have to pay whatever decision you make.
Joseph left his wife and five sons but not to live happily ever after with rabbi he loved (who was as well a husband and a father). Truth that love was a trigger but that wasn’t a reason. He firmly didn’t want to come back in his past life even when he had a chance in spite the price he and the ones he loves had to pay and horrifying consequences he had made them to face and live with. So it really is hard to understand his decision. But in the end, you’re not even asked to understand or approve or even be sympathetic. There are no easy resolutions here. [by the way what I wrote is not a spoiler whatsoever!]
I said this is very thought provoking story. It was interesting to think how religion (or for that matter anything else) can influence ones sexuality. I guess everyone knows in the puberty whether they are attracted by opposite or same sex (or both). Is it possible that one can convince her/himself they are what they’re not and even spend big part of their life thinking wrongly without being aware they’re faking? And if it is, what a hell of life that must be! There is one character in the book that asks the very same question:
“What if you’d ignored it, just buried it? What if you’d prayed and repented your evil thoughts and made pacts with God to ease the burden? Couldn’t you just have controlled your feelings? Couldn’t you have lived from day to day, promising yourself that today, just like yesterday, you’d be good?”
How enormously desperately one can be if one puts all her/his hopes into the power of will, faith, whatever … hopes to be something s/he is not.
Yup, human nature is really tricky little thing that is very hard to comprehend and even harder to restrain yourself from judging it.
Do read this book, it’s really a good one.