Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hush by Eishes Chayil

Gittle has grown up in the Chassidic Jewish community of Borough Park.  She has graduated high school, and is ready to get married.  But something is haunting her.  When she was nine, something terrible happened to her best friend Devory.  Something that even now, ten years later, she hardly understands.  She was told the best way to handle it was to forget and pretend it never happened.  And Gittle did, but she can't any longer.  Gittle loves her community, but she knows Devory never had justice.  Gittle will find it for her.

This was a very powerful, very sad book.  It isn't possible to discuss without telling you what happened to Devory, so I'll do a jump before I say.
Devory was raped by her older brother, and ended up hanging herself in Gittle's bathroom with Gittle's jump rope.  It was terrible.  It was terribly sad, and no one helped.  I hope there's a special place in hell for child molesters.

Eishes Chayil is a pseudonym that means woman of valor.  The author is a Chassidic Jew whose real experiences caused her to write this book.  I'm sure it was not an easy thing for her to do.  I liked that it is very clear she has great love for her religion and her community.  There are many wonderful things about being part of such a close community.  There is a scene, which doesn't really relate in any way to the plot as a whole, where a visitor comes to Gittle's house for dinner.  He has cancer, and he talks about how he didn't have any money and didn't know what to do and was afraid, but the community helped him.  They lifted him up and help him find and pay for doctors and treatments.  People invited him over for every meal, checked on him.  He was never alone.  While this scene doesn't move the plot, it was important because it shows that there is a lot of love and support in the community.

In Gittle's community, no one wanted to believe that such a thing could happen.  Rape is what happens to goyim (non-Jews), not to Jews.  So there was denial.  There was also fear.  People are afraid that others, outside the community who don't understand them, will look at them and blame what happened on the fact that they're Jewish, different, Chassidic.  And this is a legitimate fear.  When something bad happens in a closed community like that, the blame often does fall on the community themselves, as if they caused rape to happen, just by the fact they are whom they are of they worship a certain way.  It wasn't the Chassidic community's fault that there are bad people (they're everywhere).  But it was their fault how they handled it.

Something is clearly wrong with Devory.  She changes dramatically.  She's out of control, she won't listen to anyone anymore, and whenever her older brother comes home, she runs away to Gittle's house insisting there isn't any room at home.  One night when Gittle was staying over at Devory's, she saw Devory's brother come into the room.  She didn't understand what she was seeing.  She didn't understand why he was pushing her under the blanket.  Devory ran away the next day, and Gittle tries to tell Devory's mother that she ran away because she hates her brother, and what she saw.  Devory's mother gets upset and defends her son, and when Devory is found and is accused of telling lies.

Finally, Devory kills herself, and Gittle finds her best friend, hanging in the bathroom.  Gittle tells her father a little of what she saw, but Gittle's mother doesn't want her talking to the police.  Devory's family moves to Israel and everyone is supposed to forget it ever happened. 

As Gittle gets closer to her wedding, she thinks of Devory more and more and can't live with the thought that she let her friend die.  She goes to the police.  She learns what rape means.  She becomes determined to talk about what no one in her community will even acknowledge.

It was a very good book, thoughtful and well written.  It borders on YA and adult.  It's a book that might be difficult to recommend in a school, but it might help anyone who is struggling to speak out.  I think it's an important book to have.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...