Deborah--or Devoiri--grew up in the Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaisim. She was the daughter of an escapee and a man of lesser intelligence, and so was raised by her grandparents with lots of "help" from an aunt.
Feldman was 23 or 24 when she wrote this memoir. The writing is solid, but with a hint of immaturity, both in that it has moments of childlessness, but more that it's inchoate, that her story could be more fully told with greater distance. Still, you get that she wrote this book to save her life, psychically, as well as physically. Leaving the community you grew up in isn't good for one's finances.
Feldman's first site of disobedience was the library.
I don't have a library card, so I can't take books home wiht me. I wish that I could, because I feel so extraordinarily happy and free when I read that I'm convinced it could make everything else in my life bearable, if only I could have books all the time.
She does eventually figure out how to get library books: by taking the bus to another neighborhood and hiding them under her mattress. Even with lots of "worldly" reading, it's striking later on to see how ignorant she is of cultural markers. Without TV and movies and secular schooling, she could be growing up in the 18th century, which is the point. The Satmar sect believes that the Jewish Holocaust was punishment for assimilation, so they're not very flexible on the mores of modern life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They are not fans of the artists who live there, either.
This description of cooking with her grandmother I think encapsulates how Feldman feels in the community.
She begins cutting squares out of the flattened sheet of kreplach dough and fills them with farmer cheese, then folds the squares in half to form triangular pockets. I drop the kreplach into a pot of boiling water on the stove, watching them jostle each other for a space that the top
The squares of sameness then being folded again, into something tight and inescapable. Her own complicity in her fate and the crowded, competitive life of people without a lot of external stimuli.
Plus the sexism:
Every time a man catches a glimpse of any part of your body that the Torah says should be covered, he is sinning. But worse, you have caused him to sin.
And the homemaker's lot
The bitter herbs will be eaten later to commemorate the slave labor Jews were forced to do in Egypt, but I think Bubby has already had her fair share of that reminder for today.
As Feldman gets older, and she and her friends enter into arranged marriages, she sees their spirits dying. Her friend Mindy, who like her read secular books as a teen is now, in her early twenties, pregant with her fourth child. "It's what God wants."
The woman in the doorway was not the Mindy I knew. The woman I knew would have asserted her independence. She would not have given up and accepted her fate.
And yet, she finds herself wanting the same thing. "No one will be able to criticize my family when I a a successful, obedient housewife."
When she marries she wears a white cloth that covers her face throughout the ceremony. "I won't be able to see until the chuppah ceremony concludes, which is when Eli and I will officially be married."
Feldman also reveals the double standards of the insular community, how a small crime can permanently destroy a girl's ability to marry, and damage her whole family's reputation, but everyone comes together to protect a pedophile rapist because they don't want outsiders involved.
What is this world, that we only punish for trivialities like wearing a short skirt, but when someone breaks one of the Ten Commandments, we keep quiet?
That was, in fact, about a mutilation and murder. But reader, as we know from the title of the book, she left, and went on to write another book, Exodus, which I'll read eventually.