Deborah Feldman was born into the Satmar sect of a Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her memoir addresses her coming-of-age and eventual departure from that community. The book’s publication created a flurry of publicity.
An author video, available on Feldman’s homepage, shares a bit of what she was hoping to achieve and how attending college, in secret, helped give her courage to change her life. Her February 14th appearance on The View created quite a bit of controversy.
Adult/High School–“An empty vessel clangs the loudest.” Outspoken, insolent women in the Satmar Hasidic sect of Judaism are likely to be spiritually hollow. From an early age, this adage is repeated to intellectually curious, always questioning Devoiri Feldman. Her oldest aunt, controlling, take-charge Chaya, constantly reminds her to obey, as do her teachers and her Yiddish textbooks. Feldman carries a stigma of shame in the Satmar community of Brooklyn, NY. Her father’s childlike behavior and lack of personal hygiene leave him all but unemployable. Her mother flees her untenable arranged marriage, leaving young Devoiri to be raised by her strict paternal grandparents. She yearns to take control of her future even as she knows the restrictive path her religion dictates. Compulsively readable, Unorthodox relates a unique coming-of-age story that manages to speak personally to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider in her own life. Feldman bravely lays her soul bare, unflinchingly sharing intimate thoughts and ideas unthinkable within the deeply religious existence of the Satmars. She finds solace and inspiration in the pages of forbidden novels like Little Women that she keeps hidden beneath her mattress. At 17, she is completely unprepared for the intimacy and strictures of her own arranged marriage. After giving birth to a son just over two years later, Feldman musters the courage to take the steps that will ultimately sever her ties to this community. Teens will devour this candid, detailed memoir of an insular way of life so unlike that of the surrounding society.–Paula J. Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD