I expect that my over the moon adoration of Sujata Massey’s first Perveen Mistry Mystery may not have hit the spot for everyone. But dammit, she did such a well-researched job on her depiction of 1921 Bombay – the delight for me was in the details. Now I ‘m watching daily for Amazon to arrive and the library to receive my holds. Meanwhile, I have chosen some sociological and religious titles that intrigued me – the one below in particular. This not interest some but the lesson it left with me was a very simple. “You cannot pray away the gay”. Nor should you try. We are born who we are or very close to it. Love is not restrictive. Happiness is how you feel when you love someone or something.- if you believe in a deity – you should believe this is true.
I have very close friends who are Lubavitch Jews. I have known them for almost 35 years and I adore them. Meals at their house are performance art on so many levels and coupled with spiritual enthusiasm from everyone; each time I go there, I leave with a very good feeling. I am Jewish so I am not a fish out of water and this makes a difference as well. My friends are frum from birth, observant and very open-hearted. As I border on being a heathen by comparison – I can and do share things in my world in an exchange of wonderful learning and laughter.
It was this friendship that led me to read Uncovered By Leah Lax, the autobiography of a Jewish college girl – very confused and part of a very Orthodox Lubavitcher family. She was also gay. Her deep and difficult secret. But because there was no way to have an observant life and a woman partner, she decided she would deny her own sexuality and become the perfect Hasidic wife.
Being an accomplished frum wife is a very taxing job. It never stops, and the rules are ironclad. the job of Hasidic women, in their marriages, is (to my thinking) to teach, show, observe, uphold and find joy in these male-dominated and very narrow holy pathways. Her psyche, however, was in a pain so intense and her motives – in her own mind, so confusing it, the story was like reading a captive’s memoir. The self-doubt, her distant husband, and their 7 children had run her into the ground. And in the midst of all this tzuris, she says not a word about her long ago female lover and the feelings she does not forget and still pines for. She has erotic dreams. She has driven her doubts and anger at her chosen life beneath the surface, but not close enough; they bubble up often. Her disillusions and dread appear on every page. The constant noise of children, the smell of cooking, the repetitive existence of Shabbos – (meant to be the high spot of each week), the work-intensive holidays, the cleaning and her job (yes, she also works) felt, to me, like trying to squeeze uranium from a toothpaste tube without causing Armageddon. It ate at me as I read and what I could clearly feel was her valiant, abiding, faithful adherence to her chosen life; sucking her dry. She suffers in so many from her feelings and she suffers greatly.
Tangible details: the clothing, the wig, the rigidity, the childbirths and her husband are not left to guesswork. And eventually, by chance, the happy ending finally arrives and the long struggle she battled, allows her to keep her better self as a Jew, to embrace her sexuality and create a life with her partner and oy, was it a relief.
I suspect this book will speak to many religious women in many diverse communities, not only Orthodox Jewry. It sheds another bright light on a much-needed look at how women in male-dominated societies narrow their vision and the toll it takes. It was a difficult memoir, well written and it spoke to and will continue to speak to the many oppressed and repressed females who are now – perhaps – coming to the front and pointing fingers at a hierarchy that needs a good deal of work. As feminist commentary and cautionary tale – especially in these difficult times, I highly recommend it.
I read the “Guru of Love”, set in Nepal and found it fascinating. Mores and manners I had not often encountered in other South Asian fiction and others, wholly familiar. Nepal was a new locale but within a religious and politically fragmented country – it continued a thread that is present in so many books from this area. I liked it. It plays a timeworn song, but one that keeps playing – even now.
A desire I have had for some time has been to improve my understanding of science, After I failed “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” (sorry Neil – I tried) I found and ordered two small books that promised to teach me The Periodic Tables (a work of art) and the Cosmos. I am still hopeless, alas, but I am not finished. The fact I didn’t catch on to “Astrophysics” ( and I was in no hurry)- chips at my belief it will suddenly all make sense. But I do love Fibonacci numbers, the Large Hadron Collider, the Boson Higgs and numerous elements I hardly understand must indicate something. My burning question still exists without an answer though: If the Universe has an age, began with some sort of event and is going to end – what will be in its place instead?
These little books are from Quercus and at Daedelus, part of their winter sale.
I would love your comments. Tell me what you read and share your favorites (and give a hint why). It’s free and there is no deadline.