The Marrying of Chani Kaufman

Eve Harris. Grove/Black Cat, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2273-5
This impressive debut provides entry to a London kehilla, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where the lives of a young, betrothed couple and a rabbi and rebbetzin are gracefully intertwined. In Harris's world, life is lived religiously and compliantly, ritual to ritual, Shabbat to Shabbat. Given that the traditional choice of spouse here is practiced through a matchmaker, Baruch Levy defies both his family and expectations by stubbornly choosing to court Chani Kaufman. Barely acquainted, and after only a few meetings, Chani and Baruch become engaged; they are intelligent and pious, yet completely uninformed, and anxious, about the wedding night. The marriage of Rebbetzin Rivka Zilberman, Chani's wedding tutor, and her husband Rabbi Chaim Zilberman is troubled. Tragedies, loneliness and alienation have led to the rebbetzin's confusion: "How could she fit into a community where the pain of her loss was swept under an endless tide of prayer?" Intelligent, revealing characters who command conviction and connection; the tug between the old ways and modern life; and the universal themes of desire, guilt, manipulation and submission will resonate with readers from all backgrounds. Harris's debut is as deeply melodic and exciting as her depiction of Shabbat in Jerusalem, and will linger after the last page. Agent: Diana Beaumont, Rupert Heath Literary Agency. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/10/2014
Release date: 04/01/2014
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