Book Talk: Author explores Jewish sect she left

Thu May 24, 2012 7:49am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Like the characters of her book, Anouk Markovits grew up inside the strict Satmar Hasidic Jewish sect, where reading novels was frowned upon and she was expected to wed in an arranged marriage at a young age.

Markovits, a native of France, broke away from the community, as does Atara Stern, one of the daughters of the family in "I Am Forbidden."

But most of the book centers on those who remain behind, especially the young couple Mila and Josef, whose infertility and desire for a child sets them on a collision course with tenets of their faith.

Trained as an architect and scholar of comparative literature, Markovits spoke with Reuters about her novel and her life, where they intersect and where they differ.

Q: What inspired the book? I've read that you've said 9/11 had something to do with it.

A: "I think what happened with 9/11 is that I realized even if I in my private life had (left) fundamentalism, it was out there. I knew that I had an intimate knowledge of aspects of it...The people inside (the novel) had all made choices so different from my own, and I didn't know if I could even imagine their inner lives. But I did feel that I should try, that if I were able to do it maybe I could basically lift a corner onto a world that is really not acceptable to most people in mainstream Western society.

"So I just started and it ended up being extremely difficult because it was a world that I had left, and the people were making choices that I had not done. But then it's the magic of the novel, it required that I enter these characters and inhabit them. And the more I was trying to be these people, the more I was also realizing that that very approach, where you allow conflicting voices and multiple voices to express themselves, was itself anti-fundamentalist."

Q: How old were you when you left home, how hard was it?   Continued...