"The Ladies Auxiliary"

The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis

Batsheva has just moved into an Orthodox Jewish community in Memphis, Tennessee with her little girl, Ayala. It's a close-knit community, steeped in tradition, where everybody knows everybody else, who they are, what they do and what to expect from them. Certain behaviours are acceptable and others are not; being different makes it hard to fit in.

Batsheva is different. She wasn't raised in their tradition but she is trying to live the "religious" life as best she can and she longs for her and her daughter to be a part of this grounded, family-like community.

My expectation was that this would be one of those light, happy novels you fit in between heavier books to give you some brain relief and so you don't forget how to read for fun. Sadly, I didn't  like it. I particularly didn't like the way it's written in the first person plural, though that does have some benefits. When she says "we" thought this or did that it gives you a sense of the bond between community members and a glimpse into their mindset. The down side is it keeps you from getting to know characters individually. And it wears a bit thin after a while.

Mostly I didn't like it simply because of the huge disconnect between what they say is their chosen lifestyle and how they treat people. They talk a lot about being religious, but they gossip unendingly and pass judgement quickly and harshly. I understand I'm seeing it as an outsider because I am not a part of that faith community, and I also understand that everyone is human and is going to mess up now and then, but surely if any group is going to call themselves religious, and set themselves apart as holding to a higher standard, then how they relate to the people around them is going to be a high priority. To these people making sure there is no dust in the corner of a room seems more important than how they treat people. Something is out of whack, and it stays out of whack with only the occasional twinge of conscience. I found it tedious to the point of wanting to stop reading it and I'm not really sure why I finished it, except just to finish it.

I found the story plodding, the writing unappealing, the spirituality confusing and the ending odd. I didn't enjoy it so I can't recommend it. 


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