Book Expo America ’12 Recap and Author Sightings Part I

Thien-Kim Lam with author Justin Cronin

Thien-Kim & Justin Cronin

I almost wrote Celebrity Sightings instead of Author. I thought it might confuse people, but to me, the authors I met are celebrities to me. My second time at BEA was a lot more fun and productive. This time I knew what to expect. I had meetings schedule and even  got invited to some events (thanks to my roommate and From Left to Write member Pam for making me her +1 at some of them).

The first day was BEA Bloggers and I immediately became friends with Nicole of Paperback Princess, who was in line ahead of me. Turns out she’s a Justin Cronin fan as well. We made a beeline for one of the table where he would sit for the author breakfast speed dating. She and I sat on either side of the “reserved for author” chair. Yeah, I might have geeked out a bit. Justin Cronin was lovely to chat with. He’s down to earth (you’ll see this is a common theme with the authors I met) and gave us some hints to The Passage’s sequel, The Twelve. Sadly I did not score a galley of The Twelve. I had a meeting during his signing the following morning. At least I got a photo with him. (See my review of The Passage.)

Jennifer Weiner was the keynote for BEA Blogger. I have never read any of her books and didn’t know what to expect. She gave a fascinating talk about how social media is changing the face of publishing and books. She reminded book bloggers (plus the authors, publishers, and publicity folks attending) how vital book bloggers’ voices are to the industry. We help “handsell” the book with our word of mouth. Bloggers have a platform that allows for a more dynamic discussion of books and a conversation with the author. Of course many of us there already know this, but it never hurts to hear it from a successful author. I feel happy that From Left to Write’s book club discussions are part the dynamic. Jennifer Weiner dropped several f-bombs during her talk, which made me love her even more.

Anouk Markovits & From Left to Write Members

Anouk Markovits & From Left to Write Members

Another highlight during Book Expo was the cocktail hour that Crown Publishing hosted for From Left to Write members. We met Anouk Markovits, author of I Am Forbidden-which we read together in May. Hearing Anouk (and other authors I met last week) talk about the characters in their books was enlightening. I know this sounds silly, but I never thought about how real those characters are for the author as they are writing . They live and breathe these characters. In return, the characters talk to them. Anouk shared how Mila, one of the main characters, didn’t become likeable to her until she discovered Mila’s secret desire: to bear a child. Our members enjoyed chatting with Anouk, until her publishing team whisked her away for a much more glamourous party.

Ok, more recap to come!

Book Club Day: I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

Faith and religion is very personal for many of us. We have a choice in what we believe and how we practice our faith. In our book club selection I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits, Atara and Mila are not given a choice. Their Satmar Hasidic faith is closely intertwined with their community and family. It is a way of life for these two women. Raised as sisters, the two choose divergent paths.

Today From Left to Right members discuss I Am Forbidden with their posts inspired by the novel:

I Am Forbidden (Hogart Press) is now available. Before you crack open the novel, check out a brief primer on Judaism and Satmar Hasidism written by book club member Robin of The Not Ever-Still Life.

5 Things About Hasidism You Should Know Before Reading I Am Forbidden

I Am Forbidden by Anouk MarkovitsToday’s post is penned by From Left to Write member, Robin of The Not Ever Still Life. She helps unravel a bit of the mystery behind Judaism and Satmar Hasidism that is mentioned in I Am Forbidden. Come back tomorrow as our members discuss our latest book club selection by Anouk Markovits.

Interested in reading I Am Forbidden? Our readers found it to be mesmerizing and provocative, but also steeped in a religious tradition that’s unfamiliar to many. Here are a few concepts to get you started:

  • The urgency of childbearing: traditional Judaism teaches that Jews are God’s chosen people. The first commandment in the Bible comes from Genesis, in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve are told to “be fruitful and multiply.” There is an ancient and strong-rooted tradition that Judaism-as-lineage is extremely important and to be perpetrated. A Jew should marry another Jew, have many children, and teach them each to marry another Jew and have lots of kids. Until a generation or two ago (and this is still true in some facets of Judaism today), if a Jew married “out,” i.e. to a non-Jew (Gentile) or a secular Jew, parents and family would act as if the person was dead, including by completing rituals of mourning.
  • Within the sanctity of marriage: because marriage is sacred, an extra-maritally conceived child such as Mila’s bears the burden of being a mamzer. The word mamzer comes from the Hebrew phrase mum zar, meaning ‘strange defect.’ The child is considered spiritually wounded because of the actions of his parents. And the defect is eternal: a mamzer can only marry another mamzer or a convert. Any child of a mamzer will also be a mamzer, carrying the stigma forward generationally.
  • Which is protected by mindful contact: I Am Forbidden spends a lot of pages discussing when a husband can or cannot touch his wife and when she should invite him to resume contact. The laws of niddah (explained clearly and thoroughly here) address a woman’s purity, and therefore her husband’s, as well.
  • And by modesty: The laws of tzniut, which as a word translates to something between ‘modesty’ and ‘privacy,’ emphasize that a woman’s focus is inward, on her spirituality, and shouldn’t be on her physical form. There are a lot of important pairs in Judaism: heaven and Earth; Adam and Eve, man and woman; his external foci (learning, business, community) and her internal ones (compassion, nurturing, family). Under tzniut, a woman’s inward focus begins with herself and her own spiritual growth. The female characters in I Am Forbidden fastidiously dress modestly, covering their limbs and collar bones, and, once married, their hair, as well. (Learn more about marriage and hair covering here.)
  • Satmar Hasidism is one of the most theologically conservative sects of all of Judaism. Its members practice these rituals emphatically. They are an insular community who speak to each other casually in Yiddish, pray in Hebrew and only use English for dealings with the “outside” community. As a belief system, they adhere closely to these and all Jewish laws; oppose the existence of political state of Israel; and await the arrival of the Messiah, who will herald an era of redemption and of the creation of a modern Israel by God and not governments.

Robin, a middle-of-the-road Jew who has never covered her hair, feels entirely unqualified to write this summary but hope it helps you understand this compelling book. You can usually find her writing much more lightheartedly at her personal blog, The Not-Ever-Still Life; or on Facebook or Twitter.

May Book Club: I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

For our May book club selection, our members are reading I Am Forbidden, a new novel by Anouk Markovits.  Raised in France in a Satmar home (a sect of Hasidism), Markovits broke from the fold when she was nineteen to avoid an arranged marriage.  I Am Forbidden shows its readers what life in a Hasidic society is life. We then find out what can happen when a young woman decides to live her life differently.

Here’s the synopsis from publisher Hogarth Press, a new imprint from Random House based on the ideals of Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf’s press of the same name:

 Sweeping from the Central European countryside just before World War II to Paris to contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I Am Forbidden brings to life four generations of one Satmar family.
Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Gentile maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. As the two girls mature, Mila’s faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live.
When the two  girls come of age, Mila marries within the faith, while Atara continues to question fundamentalist doctrine. The different choices the two sisters makes force them apart until a dangerous secret threatens to banish them from the only community they’ve ever known.

Join our bloggers on May 8, when I Am Forbidden is released, as From Left to Write members discuss religion, family, marriage, or any of the themes from Markovits’ novel.

Pre-order your copy of I Am Forbidden. It will be one of the best novels you read this year.