Disobedience – Naomi Alderman

Books are like people. They’re all different; some are a bit holier-than-thou, some obnoxious, some thrilling but exhausting, and some are interesting and kind and you return to them again and again.

Then, too, meeting books is like meeting people. Some you may take a while to warm to, some you hate, some you have to get on with for the purposes of work, and some you politely say hello to and never see again… and then, every so often, you meet someone with whom you just click. Instantly, that spark is there, and you both know that you’re going to be very good for each other…. whether it’s a romance or a friendship, whether it turns out to be temporary or the beginning of something lifelong, there’s nothing in the world like feeling that someone understands you – really gets it, through and through.

Disobedience is a wonderful story, well written with fascinating characters and an insight into  worlds which I have never personally experienced. It won the Orange Award for New Writers in 2006, and personally I think the accolades are deserved – an intensely human story, which prompts philosophical thinking as well as self-reflection and introspection, as all the best books (and people, IMO) do. The narrative is centred around Ronit, a woman born into an Orthodox Jewish community, after she has done the unthinkably scandalous, and turned her back on her religion and community. Years before the book’s narrative starts, she has left London and moved to New York to become a ‘cigarette-smoking, wisecracking, New York career woman’ – then her father, the Rav (beloved Rabbi, community leader) dies, and Ronit has to face once more the places, people and culture she had left behind.

I found this to be an absolutely compelling read. I cared about Ronit, and about her childhood companions, now grown and integrated as adults in their community. I was fascinated by the insight into Orthodox Jewish culture in Britain – the narrative is peppered with short lessons on some of the history and language central to the way of life, which adds a depth of learning, and I suppose, a sort of exoticism to the story and makes it even more enticing. For this reason alone, I would happily recommend Disobedience to anyone.

Ultimately, though, what touched me about this book was that it felt like Alderman had written it just for me. It’s not about me – Ronit and I have not had the same life experiences at all – but it is for me. Like meeting someone and instantly becoming friends, I put the book down and felt both that I understood and was understood.

So don’t feel bad if you don’t connect with it like I did. One doesn’t meet a soulmate every day!

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