cover image Giving Up America

Giving Up America

Pearl Abraham. Riverhead Books, $22.95 (309pp) ISBN 978-1-57322-121-4

A Jerusalem-born Hasidic girl and an American Orthodox Jew find the temptations of American culture and the pressures of renovation undermine their marriage in Abraham's thoughtful second novel (after her Hasidic coming-of-age tale, The Romantic Reader). Deena and Daniel marry after an innocent courtship in New York, despite the bad omens her father detects through Kabbalistic numerology. Deena works unenthusiastically as a copywriter, her real passion being the restoration of the house they've bought in an old ethnic neighborhood in Queens. Daniel tires of remodeling, preferring the companionship of his secretary, a would-be Miss America, and her roommate. Cracks in the marriage appear in small things at first (Deena stops making Daniel's breakfast) and then in larger events (Daniel falls for his secretary; Deena is both jealous and relieved). Abraham contrasts American and Israeli cultures, single and married life, Orthodox and Hasidic attitudes, modern and traditional values. Raised in Hasidic communities in Jerusalem, Brooklyn and Upstate New York, she describes Hasidic life without ethnic cliches or sentimentality, at her best capturing the young heroine's mix of rebellion and loyalty. Deena's story at times is too tame, the differences between husband and wife too subtle, and the breakdown of the marriage lacks a defining showdown (even losing her job seems no great loss to Deena). Only Deena's father emerges as a strongly defined character. Yet the book's gentility is also its strength--providing quiet insight into a world rarely depicted so objectively and almost never seen through the eyes of a woman. Editor, Cindy Spigel; agent, Denise Shannon of Georges Borchardt Agency. Author tour. (Sept.)