Only read this book if you’re ready to check yourself.
Title: The Ladies Auxiliary
Author: Tova Mirvis
When free-spirited Batsheva moves into the close-knit Orthodox community of Memphis, Tennessee, the already precarious relationship between the Ladies Auxiliary and their teenage daughters is shaken to the core. In this extraordinary novel, Tova Mirvis takes us into the fascinating and insular world of the Memphis Orthodox Jews, one ripe with tradition and contradiction. Warm and wise, enchanting and funny, The Ladies Auxiliary brilliantly illuminates the timeless struggle between mothers and daughters, family and self, religious freedom and personal revelation, honoring the past and facing the future. An unforgettable story of uncommon atmosphere, profound insight, and winning humor, The Ladies Auxiliary is a triumphant work of fiction.
What I Liked:
I love when books make me reexamine myself. In reading this book I thought several times, “Shoot. Do I do that?” Or, “Yepp. I really need to fix that.”
The idea that really hit close to home were the many times the women in the Auxiliary had good intentions, and yet never acted on them. Batsheva was the unfortunate recipient (or not) of these same good intentions sans-follow through. That’s a big problem of mine.
I always think, “Oh, So-and-So had a baby! I should bring over a meal!” or “Hey that looks like a new girl at church! I should go introduce myself!” And then I forget, or feel too shy, or something else comes up and it just doesn’t happen. Mirvis did an excellent job portraying that thought process in the different characters. It certainly motivated me to do and be better.
Each of the characters was well developed and complex, and each embarked on a journey of self discovery that was satisfying and fascinating. Although they were portrayed as a singular unit, they had distinct personalities, strengths and foibles.
I really enjoyed the ways in which Batsheva disrupts the status quo. So much of it came down to “It’s just not how we do things.”
We think about that being an issue that only small or rural communities face, but really it is a universal problem. Just as a close-knit Orthodox community might have trouble accepting a free spirit, so might a Wall Street banking community have trouble accepting a Habitat for Humanity home being built in their neighbourhood. But we’re all just people.
What I Didn’t Like:
The first person plural just didn’t really do it for me. Was it interesting? Yes. Different? Definitely. But I just couldn’t enjoy the book as much as I wanted to because found it so distracting. On one page near the beginning of the book we are privy to two separate people’s thoughts, as well as the collective’s thoughts. On one page!
There was one aspect of the collective narrative that I did find interesting. I had noticed that at the beginning of the book we were presented the thoughts of certain characters, and at the end we were no longer able to access their thoughts. Initially I thought this was an editing error, but my friend pointed out in book club that as the characters stopped agreeing with the collective they also stopped being included in it. Touché, Mirvis.
This was a fantastic book club read. I think it helped that we all belong to the same church (LDS!) so we were able to relate to the characters in similar ways, and understand the structure of the Orthodox community since it in many ways reminds us of our own religion.
We had some great discussions about the idea of “That’s just not how we do things,” (and how it can be totally ridiculous and harmful) and about the desire we share with the characters that our children grow up and remain in the church.
We also all enjoyed learning more about Jewish Orthodoxy and the rituals, habits and teachings that they live and love. We thought Mirvis did a fantastic job of explaining the rituals without making it sound as though she assumed the reader was a 12 year old.
An examination of an Orthodox Jewish community, and a reflection of ourselves.
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