The Book of Separation: A Memoir

by Tova Mirvis

Book, 2017



Call number



Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017


The memoir of a woman who leaves her faith and her marriage and sets out to navigate the terrifying, liberating terrain of a newly mapless world Born and raised in a tight-knit Orthodox Jewish family, Tova Mirvis committed herself to observing the rules and rituals prescribed by this way of life. After all, to observe was to be accepted and to be accepted was to be loved. She married a man from within the fold and quickly began a family. But over the years, her doubts became noisier than her faith, and at age forty she could no longer breathe in what had become a suffocating existence. Even though it would mean the loss of her friends, her community, and possibly even her family, Tova decides to leave her husband and her faith. After years of trying to silence the voice inside her that said she did not agree, did not fit in, did not believe, she strikes out on her own to discover what she does believe and who she really is. This will mean forging a new way of life not just for herself, but for her children, who are struggling with what the divorce and her new status as "not Orthodox" mean for them.   This is a memoir about what it means to decide to heed your inner compass at long last. To free the part of yourself that has been suppressed, even if it means walking away from the only life you've ever known. Honest and courageous, Tova takes us through her first year outside her marriage and community as she learns to silence her fears and seek adventure on her own path to happiness.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member NeedMoreShelves
This was a lovely and thoughtful memoir written about the time immediately following the author's divorce, and exodus from the orthodox Judaism that had been the faith she grew up with. As a person who has taken a religious exodus of sorts myself, much of her experience resonated with me. The idea
Show More
of leaving behind what you have known to discover your own truth is a powerful one, and Mirvis writes about it with grace, all the while maintaining a deep respect for the people and faith she leaves behind. I found this to be a fantastic read - recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member akblanchard
Memoirist Tova Mirvis grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family and married a man from a similar background with the intention of continuing their religion's time-honored traditions. As she grew older, had children and became a published novelist, she discovered that adhering to the old laws felt
Show More
stultifying, and she yearned to flee her embattled marriage. The Book of Separation is an account of how the author learned to overcome her fears and break free of others' expectations to find a life that feels right. Fortunately for her, this new life comes with an ideal new man.

The Book of Separation is slow-paced and meditative; those looking for anti-religious scandal won't find it here. Instead, it is the story of one woman's liberation and reconciliation of her past with her present and future. She writes that Orthodox Judaism has become for her like her childhood home; she can visit it, but she doesn't live there any more. I can't recommend this memoir highly, as I found it tedious in places and easy to put down, but if you are interested in the topic, you may find it a worthy read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member froxgirl
I'm fascinated by the sub-genre of the leaving and shunning of Orthodox Jews from their cocoon. Tova Mirvis grew up as Modern Orthodox, which is slightly more liberal (though, of course, not liberal at all) than the alternatives. She has doubts from her youth, but in order to suppress them, she
Show More
does what's common: runs full speed ahead into the maelstrom - in this case, marriage and children.

The divorce is horribly painful, but Tova and her ex-husband are able to maintain joint custody, which is not a frequent outcome. She's also blessed by the rabbinical court that grants the divorce - which I found to be surprisingly significant and moving.

The memoir details her life and divorce journey and the impact on her family. Two remarkable scenes feature the author and her friend performing their own mikvah (ritual cleansing bath) in Crystal Lake, Newton, MA (it's usually done in a sanctuary presided over by a trained matron), and her son's first taste of non-kosher food.

Tova is a fine writer, and the book is a energizing mix of facts and feels.

Quotes: "Each rule was a load-bearing wall in the overarching structure."

"All I needed to do was to press the edges of my old self against this new image so that we formed a single figure."

"I wasn't here in college to discover who I wanted to be but to remain who I already was."

"Any sin, I knew, wasn't mine alone - now that we were married, we represented each other. If I didn't cover my hair, Aaron was less religious just by being married to me."
Show Less
LibraryThing member teachlz
My Review of “The Book of Separation” by Tova Mirvis

Kudos to Tova Mirvis, Author of “The Book of Separation” for such an honest, emotional and courageous Memoir. Can you imagine questioning why things have to be a certain way? Or imagine thinking of leaving a toxic situation, but are too
Show More
afraid of what the unknown is? Or being so unhappy, and afraid of the consequences of making a change?

In “The Book of Separation, Tova Mirvis writes a memoir about leaving her marriage and the Orthodox Jewish rules and rituals she has grown up with. Tova writes in such a positive way about her dysfunctional marriage and questioning her religious faith. What makes it exceptionally difficult is that Tova has three children, and wants the best for them.

This is a memoir of searching for oneself, questioning, and maintaining a balance in life. As Tova becomes free, she starts to experience life in a way she never has before. She takes trips, tries new food, and enjoyable activities. As Tova deals with her new freedom, she also has to visit with the past because of her family. I recommend this intriguing and heartwarming memoir for those readers that enjoy reading Nonfiction and memoirs.
Show Less
LibraryThing member DanTarlin
Memoir of a novelist focused on the dissolution of her marriage along with her slow departure from the Orthodox Jewish community as she finds herself and puts her life back together.
Beautifully written, sad, and inspiring at the same time.
LibraryThing member Bookish59
Mirvis describes 2 separations in her life: divorcing her husband, Aaron, and disconnecting from most, not all, of her modern orthodox beliefs and practices. A double whammy!! She had married young, as most orthodox do, despite arguing with Aaron while dating, and personal doubts rationalizing that
Show More
she didn't want to end up alone!

Her family is concerned and saddened but supportive. The Jewish community sadly is judgmental and disapproving especially against Mirvis' writings. The message is don't think like an independent adult; just concern yourself with what your neighbors and fellow congregants will think of you! Tova feels grateful that some of her friends and neighbors remain friendly, others simply civil.

Tova accepts that everything she is doing is an arduous process. She finds ways to strengthen herself, i.e. getting over her fear of driving on highways, and discovering the best of Boston, and to calm herself by finding progressive congregations and hiking nature trails.

She recognizes that the cost of being unhappy, living a lie was too high, and decides to speak up, and take action.

She listens supportively to individual orthodox women who seek her out to reveal their thoughts and the pain they experience, and ask her if that is what she felt.

A good read because Mirvis is honest, brave and scared, sad and determined; and an excellent writer.
Show Less

Original publication date



Page: 0.3809 seconds