Post-9/11 spying, Victorian murder, college intrigue

October 01, 2006|By Victoria A. Brownworth

Forgetfulness

Ward Just

Disobedience

Naomi Alderman

Touchstone/Simon & Schuster / 240 pages / $24

Naomi Alderman's debut novel won the Orange Prize when it was published earlier this year in England. Set in the claustrophobic world of Orthodox Jews in London's Herndon district (where Alderman herself was raised), it is the story of Ronit Krushka, daughter of an imposing Orthodox rabbi, whose following trails Ronit to New York, where she has fled to become a financial analyst and an out lesbian. When her father dies, she is summoned back to London after a six-year absence, where she reconnects with her old community, family members and a former lover - to volatile and near-tragic effect. Disobedience has two narrative veins, one the omniscient voice of the Herndon community itself and the other the first-person voice of Ronit, each of which is deeply affecting in its own way. Disobedience is most engaging when peeling back the layers of Orthodox culture in London - there are points of intense passion and incredible poignancy, particularly in the character of Esti. Ronit herself is a tad judgmental of the life she left behind, despite leading a not-so-evolved life herself in New York. Uneven, but compelling.

Victoria A. Brownworth is the author and editor of several short story collections including "Day of the Dead." Her novella "After the Fire" appears in "Distant Horizons," a short story collection edited by Greg Herren. She teaches short story writing, literature and film at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

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