The Romance Reader

Patty Osborne

I picked up The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham (Riverhead Books) from the New Arrivals shelf in the local library, probably because the back cover blurb said it was about life in a Hasidic family—from a woman's point of view. I haven't had much exposure to Hasidic Jews, apart from seeing those fellows with beards and long side curls walking on the streets of Montreal. Told from the point of view of a teenaged girl named Rachel, The Romance Reader gives us a close look at a life guided by rigid rules, enforced not only by parents but by the entire close-knit community. Rachel finds escape in romantic novels, which she must read secretly. As the time for an arranged marriage looms near, she struggles against tradition and her own conscience to find her own way. What makes this story believable is that Rachel does not see a clear path from where she is to where she wants to be. Like most of us she is not sure of what she really wants. There are no impassioned speeches or emotional encounters here. Rachel is just a young woman trying to find her own way through the minefield of others' expectations. But when Hasidic customs and a boring bus ride conspire to give her an unexpected chance at a different life, she seizes the opportunity.

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