cover image Holy Unexpected: My New Life as a Jew

Holy Unexpected: My New Life as a Jew

Robin Chotzinoff, . . Public Affairs, $25 (218pp) ISBN 978-1-58648-308-1

The cadence of every conversion narrative is one of lost-and-found, and this edgy memoir by Chotzinoff, a freelance writer and convert to Judaism, does not disappoint. We learn of her rarefied and decidedly secular New York childhood, where music and free-flowing liquor framed intellectual discussions late into the night. This led to a wandering adolescence and young adulthood marked by drugs, sexual promiscuity, depression and binge eating. But Chotzinoff's conversion narrative eschews the traditional sudden epiphany for a gradual, postmodern transformation; when she discovers Judaism at an eclectic Denver synagogue, the change comes across less as a bolt of lightning than a long-desired and tentative homecoming. Her story is also refreshingly devoid of the usual convert's fervor—she considers herself observant, but does not strive to keep every jot and tittle of halakah. As she learns to quilt, make latkes (the low-fat version just won't cut it, she discovers) and keep Shabbat, Chotzinoff uncovers herself anew in the rigors of an ancient faith. Her writing is acerbically funny and generally devoid of sentimentality, which makes the memoir's more powerful moments—such as the haunting beauty of her daughter's bat mitzvah—unexpectedly emotional. (Aug.)