Friday, November 16, 2018

Book Review: 'A Book of Separation' by Tova Mirvis

Tova Mirvis bares her soul in "A Book of Separation," in which she recalls her Modern Orthodox upbringing in Memphis; her sixteen-year marriage to Aaron, with whom she had three children; and her decision at the age of forty to leave not only her husband, but also traditional Judaism. Tova, (a name that in Hebrew means "good"), is a novelist who married too young and too hastily, before she and Aaron really knew who they were and what they wanted. Although they stayed together for a long time and were grateful to have two beautiful sons and a daughter, Aaron and Tova gradually drifted apart and began quarreling. Tova had hinted now and then that she was no longer comfortable with the rituals that defined their existence, but Aaron was still shocked when she asked for a divorce.

Mirvis's writing is exceptional. She creates poetic images and vivid metaphors, and in heartfelt passages, shares her feelings of pain, guilt, and loss. The author does not single out religion as the sole source of her discontent. In fact, she acknowledges that Orthodox Judaism is, for many individuals (including Tova's Chasidic brother), a beautiful and fulfilling way of life that helps bring harmony, peace, and joy to its adherents. Nor does she blame her husband for her woes. Instead, after much soul-searching, she realized that her insular community was slowly suffocating her. She was no longer content to go through the motions of pretending to be happy.

"The Book of Separation" is a poignant and, in many ways, sad description of the dissolution of a long marriage, made all the more difficult because three children were involved. Tova and Aaron consulted lawyers and therapists before splitting up their property, settling on a joint custody agreement, and making the transition from a couple to single parents. This memoir is a rich tapestry that flashes back to Tova's childhood, education, early years with Aaron, and her excitement and pleasure at becoming a mother and a novelist. Finally, she finds the courage to express her misgivings to her husband, parents, and friends. Eventually, she forges a new path, and takes her first tentative steps into uncharted territory.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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