Winner of the Orange Award for New Writers, Disobedience is the story of Ronit Krushka, a 32-year-old financial analyst living in New York City. A strong, independent woman, Ronit has been blazing her own path since her teens. When her father, a leader of Orthodox Jewish community in London, dies, Ronit feels a strong urge to return home. Reentering the stifling environment of her youth, Ronit is forced to confront her past.
The story is narrated in turn by Ronit (with a fantastic interior monologue that refers frequently to her psychiatrist back in NY) and a third-person omniscient narrator and each chapter begins with a quote from the Torah or other Talmudic text. Highlighting both the similarities and differences between the religious community of Hendon and the secular world in which most of us live, Disobedience is indeed about the tendency to disobedience that is inherent in each of us.
My favorite chapter in seven. I loved how the chapter begins with "Our sages warn us often against the perils of gossip: lashon hara, which means, literally, an evil tongue" (109) and an explanation of why gossip is so bad and then continues to follow all the orthodox women in the neighborhood self-consciously gossiping about Ronit and Esti. Alderman handles this masterfully:
Mrs. Berditcher drew breath. She might know something. Just a little piece of news. The bread slicer clattered, its comb-blades flickering up and down as the women drew closer. Wat? What did Mrs. Berditcher know? Mrs. Berditcher shook her head. It would not be right to speak of such things. She and Mr. Berditcher thought they might have seen something on their walk home after Shabbat the previous evening. But they could not be sure. It had been dark. They had been very far away. Their eyes may have deceived them. Although, seeing Ronit so different, her hair so short, her demeanor so assertive and still unmarried at thirty-two, well, there seemed a kind of sense to it. But what? What had been seen? The break slicer roared to life again, a limp-haired assistant by its side feeding it four large, square white loaves. Mrs. Berditcher demurred. It would certainly be lashon hara to speak the words, and lashon hara is a thing of evil, as they had learned many years before. Mrs. Stone and Mrs. Abramson heard, as through from far away, a faint and calming voice telling them to desist. Move on, it said, go on with your shopping. Buy bages and kichels and rugelach. But nearer at hand they felt a quickening pulse at their temples. Go on, they pressed, go one. Mrs. Berditcher hesitate and, in a low voice, went on. (114-115)And it just gets better.