The Sisters Weiss

by Naomi Ragen

Book, 2013



Call number




New York, NY St. Martin's Press, 2013


"A powerful new novel of identity, loyalty and true love, from the international bestselling author of The Tenth Song In 1950's Brooklyn, sisters Rose and Pearl Weiss grow up in a loving but strict ultra-Orthodox family, never dreaming of defying their parents or their community's unbending and intrusive demands. Then, a chance meeting with a young French immigrant turns Rose's world upside down, its once bearable strictures suddenly tightening like a noose around her neck. Defiantly, she begins to live a secret life that shocks her family when it is discovered. Out of guilt and an overwhelming desire to be reconciled with those she loves, she finally bows to her parents' demands that she agree to an arranged marriage. But the night before her wedding, she commits an act of defiance so unforgivable it will exile her forever from her innocent young sister, her family, and all she has ever known. Forty years later, pious Pearl's sheltered young daughter Rivka suddenly discovers the truth about the family outcast, her Aunt Rose, now a successful photographer. Inspired, but naive and reckless, she sets off on a dangerous adventure that will stir up the ghosts of the past and alter the future in unimaginable ways for all involved. "--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member beckyhaase
Rose and Pearl grow up in an ultra-orthodox home in New York with a Rabbi father and ultra-observant mother. Theirs is a loving but strict family, requiring absolute obedience from the girls and their older siblings. When sheltered and naive Rose (the older of the
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two) becomes friendly with a new girl whose family is newly observant and extremely permissive, she sees a world beyond her closed society. Sent away from home into an even more strict and confining school, Rose rebels and commits a sin her family considers unforgivable. Pearl, who adores her older sister, is left behind to deal with a fractured family and her own perceived guilt. The remainder of the novel covers the career and family of Rose and the eventual re-involvement of Pearl’s conservative religious beliefs in her life.
I found the first three fourths of this novel very informative concerning the ultra-orthodox life style. The characters were fully developed and consistent. The writing was clear and presented the various viewpoints with insight and sympathy. The situations were transparently presented and led to the final plot conflict. Unfortunately the final section of the novel seemed hurried, the characters lost their consistency of thought and action, and the ending was contrived and disappointing.
There is much here that book groups will find worthy of discussion, despite the novel’s limitation. The family situation, the effect of religious faith on family life, sibling relationships, guilt, forgiveness, redemption, choice of career, women’s choice’s, family dynamics, unplanned pregnancies, and education are all worthy topics.
3 of 5 stars
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LibraryThing member Maggie.Anton
I know enough about Haredi life so that the depiction here wasn't new for me, but I appreciate that Ragen didn't romanticize it but showed the difficulties it creates for women. I was impressed by how Ragen moved back and forth between decades without loosing the story line; it takes an experienced
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author to do that well. Though the ending was pat and tied things up a little too easily, I admit to liking a happy ending. I actually wish Ragen had developed the last part of the novel as deeply as she did the beginning. [spoiler alert: I had to read the epilogue carefully to see that Hannah finally married Adler].
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LibraryThing member Bookish59
I enjoyed this book. Ragen did a splendid job with the first part. The sisters' early lives felt genuine; full of the love, anger, jealousy and confusion characteristic of childhood and the teen years. And the overbearing, provincial and judgmental environment of the Ultra-Orthodox Charedi in
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Brooklyn with its focus on a life of sacrifice, painstaking obligation and conformity was incredibly well-described.

But I didn't feel the same connection with the 2nd part of the novel; while good it felt forced and removed from the first as though there was gap of time between the writing of the 2 parts.

I liked and felt for Rose; she was an innocent; intelligent and courageous enough to make a life-altering decision at too young an age but before it became too late. I didn't feel quite the same way about Rivkah because though young she was deceitful and manipulative.

Strong, engaging story about women, families, responsibilities and freedom.
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LibraryThing member bookczuk
The problem for me with this book was that it was set in 1950's Brooklyn, and I wanted to read about Brooklyn of the 1920's and 30's. The glimpses into Orthodox life were interesting though.
LibraryThing member shazjhb
In attempting to provide contrast she made the religious world seem much too closed off. Interesting story of sisters. I continue to enjoy her books.
LibraryThing member jkrnomad
Absolutely fascinating and tragic at the same time.
LibraryThing member nwieme
Thoroughly enjoyed this!
LibraryThing member LivelyLady
Excellent story of two sisters being brought up as strict Orthodox Jews in old New York. It is also the story of one sister living by the rules and the other not doing that. I was surprised at the subservience of the women in the practicing sect. Very well written with a glossary in the back of
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Hebrew and Yiddish terms for us goys!
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LibraryThing member Dream24
I received a ARC through Goodreads.

This book took me on a journey and introduced me to the inner world of an ultra-Orthodox family. It was enlightening and interesting to read the struggles, responsibilities and choices that the Weiss females make, which ultimately affect the other in some ways
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or another.

It's always the quiet ones that are the troublemaker ;) Who would have guessed that obedient and understanding Rose would be the one to start off the traditional path and end up cleaving a path of her own and ultimately cause Rivka to go done a similar path.

It was interesting to read how much Rose and Rivka are like mirror images of each other through the choices that they make. However there were major differences, whereas Rose went one route, Rivka almost ended up being completely dependent on others (and I say almost because of what could have been).

I felt like it was an interesting and almost coming of age read. It shows the struggles and responsibilities that comes with 'freedom' for each and every choice that each ladies made, while keeping it grounded and realistic. While there were moments that had me struggle to understand the ultra strict world the Weiss sisters and family grew up with, but that only just goes to show you how descriptive and persuasive the author is at explaining their community and life.

My only critique would be that I wish we got to know and hear more of Pearl's story.
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