Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati
This book made me feel uncomfortable. Allow me to explain why. Before the story begins, Robyn Bavati notes that she grew up in a Modern Orthodox family, not Haredi, as the community in the book is. In fact, Ditty's cousin who is Modern Orthodox is portrayed as being liberal and wild. Bavati also notes that "...the community portrayed in this story is not representative of the broader Jewish community..." OK, so, I wonder about her choice to set her story in the Haredi community. Because she felt it would a better, more dramatic story? Why did she pick a community she didn't actually grow up in? Why not tell her own story?
The view that Bavati shows of the Haredi community is a very harsh one. People are portrayed as brainwashed zealots, who blindly follow their religious convictions. Only Ditty fights against religion, finally breaking free. I am not saying that there aren't conflicts like this in religious communities. It is no doubt a common story. My issue was the incredibly one-sided picture we got of that community.
I think of the incredible book Hush, by Eishes Chayil, which was about sexual abuse in the Chasidic community. Despite the serious nature of the book, and the realness of the problem, Eishes Chayil was still able to show, in many different ways, the positive aspects of such a community. The people were not represented as flat, one-dimensional characters. They were full, complex people.
That was not the case with Dancing in the Dark. Religion is brainwashing, and Ditty must break free of it in order to become a dancer. She doesn't try to modify her religious beliefs to make her Judaism and dancing fit together. Once her secret comes out and she leaves her community, she leaves her religion as well, because her mind has been opened and she sees how religion doesn't actually make any sense.
So it makes me uncomfortable, knowing what an incredibly narrow view of the Jewish community this is, and how it will seem to someone who knows very little of the Jewish community.
As a story, it was fine. Girl following her dream against the wishes of her family. Nothing new there.
Dancing in the Dark comes out February 8, 2012.