On Division

by Goldie Goldbloom

Book, 2019

Barcode

123461124

Call number

FIC GOL

Collections

Publication

New York, NY Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019

Description

** Winner of the 2020 Jewish Fiction Award ** "A novel of wisdom and uncertainty, of love in its greater and lesser forms, and of the struggle between how it should be and how it is. It is impossible not to be moved." --Amy Bloom, author ofWhite Houses "This book brings the reader into the heart of a close-knit Jewish family and their joys, loves, and sorrows . . . A marvelous book by a masterful writer." --Audrey Niffenegger, author ofHer Fearful Symmetry andThe Time Traveler's Wife Through one woman's life at a moment of surprising change, the award-winning author Goldie Goldbloom tells a deeply affecting, morally insightful story and offers a rare look inside Brooklyn's Chasidic community On Division Avenue, just a block or two up from the East River in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Surie Eckstein is soon to be a great-grandmother. Her ten children range in age from thirteen to thirty-nine. Her in-laws, postwar immigrants from Romania, live on the first floor of their house. Her daughter Tzila Ruchel lives on the second. She and Yidel, a scribe in such demand that he makes only a few Torah scrolls a year, live on the third. Wed when Surie was sixteen, they have a happy marriage anda full life, and, at the ages of fifty-seven and sixty-two, they are looking forward to some quiet time together. Into this life of counted blessings comes a surprise. Surie is pregnant. Pregnant at fifty-seven. It is a shock. And at her age, at this stage, it is an aberration, a shift in the proper order of things, and a public display of private life. She feels exposed, ashamed. She is unable to share the news, even with her husband. And so for the first time in her life, she has a secret--a secret that slowly separates her from the community. Goldie Goldbloom'sOn Divisionis an excavation of one woman's life, a story of awakening at middle age, and a thoughtful examination of the dynamics of self and collective identity. It is a steady-eyed look inside insular communities that also celebrates their comforts. It is a rare portrait of a long, happy marriage. And it is an unforgettable new novel from a writer whose imagination is matched only by the depth of her humanity.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member BettyTaylor56
This book provided an in-depth look at life within the insular Chassidic community. However, the third person perspective left me feeling no connection to the characters. I think I would have preferred a first person perspective for this story.

Surie, at the age of 57, is pregnant with twins. She
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already has 32 grandchildren. She fears for her family’s reputation. None of her peers have been pregnant within the past decade. Ashamed, she begins lying to her husband for the first time in their marriage. She and her children will be shunned if others find out about her pregnancy. I couldn’t really connect with Surie’s feelings given the narrative was an observation.

This book is good for people who have an interest in learning about the lives of the Chassid. Goldblum presents their lives in a very respectful manner, revealing the positives of such a close-knit community along with its negatives.

Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the advance e-galley. Opinions expressed are my own.
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LibraryThing member pomo58
On Division from Goldie Goldbloom is a very well-written novel that in many ways goes beyond being 'just' a novel. This is both an interesting narrative and a glimpse into a community that is largely closed to outsiders.

The main protagonist is Surie Eckstein, a Chasidic Jew living in Brooklyn who
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is experiencing a late in life pregnancy. This raises many questions and issues for her and her community. I call her the main protagonist because in many ways the Chasidic community is also a main character, though largely presented at through the dynamic of Surie's thoughts and her community's (real or anticipated) response to her pregnancy. Through the need to venture outside the closed community, more and more questions are raised in Surie's mind about what is and is not "right."

This is probably one of the most aptly named books in recent memory. This book largely takes place on and around Division Avenue and is very much a meditation on division. While in this case the various types of division have to do with the strict orthodoxy of this particular religion it also speaks to the way we can all get so caught up in our own orthodoxies that we are either mistaken or misunderstand those who hold other views. This may largely be the realm of religion it is far from being limited to it. Theoretical and political schools of thought can be every bit as limiting as any strict religious orthodoxy.

It is easy, and far too often encouraged, to judge harshly any insular group, especially one based on religion that goes largely against the grain of the society, both secular and religious, surrounding it. The beauty, I think, in Goldbloom's approach is that we are shown many of the problematic, from an outsider's viewpoint, issues of Chasidic life while we also see many of the positives of their lifestyle. There are far more questions than answers here as far as what demands a community (religious or otherwise) can and should make of its members. I found that approach to be wonderful, I felt invested in Surie without ever feeling I had to either approve or condemn the community within which she lived. I was able to appreciate parts of the Chasidic life while also not liking other aspects. Far too many books, fiction or nonfiction, want to make a reader choose one or the other.

I would recommend this to a wide range of readers. If, like me, you enjoy learning about communities you know little to nothing about, but don't want to be pushed to either approve or disapprove, you will likely find this an enjoyable read. If you simply enjoy novels that show a character struggling with who they are, why they are, and their role in their community, you'll also likely enjoy this.

Reviewed from a copy made available through Goodreads First Reads.
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
I absolutely loved Goldie Goldbloom's other novel, THE PAPERBARK SHOE, a real literary potboiler, with its abandoned albino artistic heroine, set in the unforgiving Outback of Australia during WWII. It was a book of considerable scope with a number of unexpected twists and turns, filled with
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cruelty, despair, quirky characters and even some kinky sex. It was - IS - a real one-of-a-kind sort of book. And now, several years later, we have this book, ON DIVISION, and lemme tell ya, it is NOTHING like her first book. But that doesn't matter. I absolutely loved this one too.

ON DIVISION takes its title from the main street running through Williamsburg, the Jewish section of Brooklyn, the book's setting. The time is the present, and the book's heroine, Surie Eckstein, is a devoutly Chassidic Jew, mother of ten, grandmother many times over, and wife of Yidel, a much sought after and respected scribe who creates traditional Torahs, employing careful calligraphy on animal skins. At fifty-seven, Surie has a secret. She is pregnant, with twins. Her youngest child is now thirteen. Since then she has survived cancer and a double mastectomy. She feels, at first, mostly shame, and is afraid to tell her husband - indeed, she is afraid to tell anyone. She forms an alliance with Val, the single, childless midwife who has delivered all of her children. Val urges Surie to tell Yidel, but Surie resists telling, putting it off repeatedly. In the meantime, she becomes Val's helper in the Manhattan clinic just across the bridge, and even begins to study midwifery. Books and study, and even any talk of sex or pregnancy, we learn, are strictly forbidden, but Surie continues to progress and learn about all of it. She becomes a valuable asset as a Yiddish interpreter for all the pregnant Jewish mothers who come to the clinic.

Unlike Goldbloom's previous book, Surie's story is intensely local and very personal. We get a crash course in the life of Chassidic Jewish women, a very cloistered, "apart" sort of life, where the men grow beards and the sidelocks, while the women must shave their heads and wear wigs and scarves, or cloth turbans. They have their own stores and temples and adhere strictly to the teachings of the Torah. Surie's other secret sorrow is her son, Lipa, gay and flamboyant, who was banished not just by their community, but even by his father. Because the Chassidic community has both its good and bad sides. On the good side, children are all-important. Here's how Surie herself put it, remembering the birth of her tenth child -

"Why should I scream, why should I moan, when I am doing the exact thing I was made for? When I am fulfilling my part in creation? Thank God I know my place in the world. The Torah speaks about many things, but always, always it talks about the children that come forth, the children that one is to sacrifice for. Every part of my life is turned towards children, the having of children, the raising of children."

But the community is unforgiving and intolerant of those who are "different," and so Lipa, with his flagrantly gay ways, was forced out. He was Surie's favorite (though she knows 'favorites' are also forbidden), and, though she is supposed to act as though he never existed, she cannot get Lipa out of her heart and mind, reasoning -

"... what, after all, was so terrible about loving a man instead of a woman? Did the Torah forbid loving? She did not know, did not want to know, what Lipa had done behind closed doors. But then, she did not know what her friends, women she had known for fifty years, did behind closed doors either. None of them spoke about such things. How she wished the veil of secrecy had remained drawn for Lipa too."

In a conversation she has with Val, Surie blurts out her secret, along with her real feelings -

"I had a child who was both gay and not religious, and though he pushed me hard, though everything he did felt like he took a razor to my flesh, I could not stop loving him. And if I had the chance again, I would bring him home and put him to sleep in the best bed, and I would tell him to bring home his boyfriend and I would tell all of my children and my grandchildren to smile at him and to love him and never to stop. And that is because a parent's love does not end. Should not end."

Yes. But the Chassidic community was not that forgiving, could be cruel even, and Surie knows this. She sees this again in the case of a thirteen year-old girl who comes to the clinic, impregnated by an "unlicensed" therapist she had been sent to, a community elder in his sixties. And when she tries to report the man, she is further disappointed, as she is by Yidel, who disapproves of her studying to be a midwife. She is also extremely disappointed in his inability to see that she herself is pregnant again.

The focus in this book is a very narrow one, centered as it is in this small, insular religious community of Brooklyn. I do not want to give anything else away, but trust me, there is unbelievable tension - and suspense - in Surie's very personal story. I was quickly caught up in it. And I suspect anyone who appreciates good writing and, especially, good characters, will love this book as much as I did. My very highest recommendation. Bravo, Ms Goldbloom!

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
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LibraryThing member HandelmanLibraryTINR
Through one woman's life at a moment of surprising change, the award-winning author Goldie Goldbloom tells a deeply affecting, morally insightful story and offers a rare look inside Brooklyn's Chasidic community
LibraryThing member froxgirl
Here's the flip side of Unorthodox: the woman who stays. Mother of ten, grandmother of thirty two, almost a great-grandmother. Married at 16, deeply settled into and revered in her Chassidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn - and Surie Eckstein is pregnant again, with twins, at age 57. Medical
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or religious miracle and embarrassing and disastrous for the status of her family, Surie cannot bring herself to tell her loving husband Yidel, a Torah scribe. She chooses her non-Jewish midwife as her confidante and stretches the boundaries of life outside her home, learns English and anatomy, and risks losing everything. Surie's melange of courage and foolishness make this an endearing portrait of a woman who daringly reaches beyond her cocoon. The author is divorced, has eight children of her own and is a member of the Chassidic community of Chicago.
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LibraryThing member ShannonRose4
I had just finished watching Shtisel on Netflix and wanted more of the community and the traditions when I started reading this novel.
We meet Surie who is part of the Williamsburg Jewish community, about to become a great-grandmother. As the novel opens, we find Surie waiting for the bus home
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having just confirmed that she is pregnant with twins.
We hear all of Surie’s thoughts: how and when is she going to tell her husband? What is she going to do? I found myself on the edge of my seat for almost the entire book; This story welcomes you into a hidden world; forces you to feel all the emotions and contradictions of living a life and leaves you embracing all the joys and deep sorrows of a life well lived.
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LibraryThing member ShannonRose4
I had just finished watching Shtisel on Netflix and wanted more of the community and the traditions when I started reading this novel.
We meet Surie who is part of the Williamsburg Jewish community, about to become a great-grandmother. As the novel opens, we find Surie waiting for the bus home
Show More
having just confirmed that she is pregnant with twins.
We hear all of Surie’s thoughts: how and when is she going to tell her husband? What is she going to do? I found myself on the edge of my seat for almost the entire book; This story welcomes you into a hidden world; forces you to feel all the emotions and contradictions of living a life and leaves you embracing all the joys and deep sorrows of a life well lived.
Show Less

Original publication date

2019

ISBN

0374175313
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