gail schimmel

The blog of writer Gail Schimmel: A bit of writing, a bit of parenting, a bit of thinking and some book reviews

Almost English and The Marrying of Chani Kaufman

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I seem to have inadvertently and inexplicably embarked on a Man Booker Prize longlist reading project. The reason that this is a bit strange is that I have, for years, considered Man Booker Prize to stand for “MAN, this BOOK is a fuckER” prize. But I changed my mind a bit with Julian Barnes’ A Sense of Ending, which I loved.
SO, first I read Almost English, by Charlotte Mendelson, on the advice of a friend in publishing. There is a description of this book as “Prep, with elderly Hungarians”, which is true, and a compliment because Prep is a GREAT book. It is a coming of age story of the awkward, socially inept Marina and her equally socially inept mother. It has a hilarious cast of Hungarians, who are over the top, and lovely, and very hard to leave. I loved the characters in this book, and felt a bit bereft when I finished. On the slightly down side, I didn’t quite buy how the plot all came together. I’m most likely completely wrong, but I think that the writer did not know how the plot would turn out when she started, so the signals are too few and far between, and I felt a bit hurried towards an unlikely “twist”. But then I loved the final resolution, and on the whole really enjoyed the read.
Then, not realising that it is also longlisted, I chose Eve Harris’s The Marrying of Chani Kaufman. This book explores orthodox Hasidic Judaism, and in particular the way it affects relationships between the sexes (profoundly). It was so interesting, and the characters are so sympathetically drawn. It also raises a plethora of questions about choices, and marriage, and the nature of intimacy. I don’t want to spoil anything, as everyone should read this, but while I was in no doubt by the end where the author stands on freedom versus religion, I wondered about her beliefs about marriage in the same context. At the end of the book ask yourself this: Which of the marriages and relationships seemed happy, and which failed? This is a great read, and easy – not at all a “Man, this book is a fucker”, but possibly a Man Booker . . .

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