Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Judy Brown's "This Is Not a Love Story: A Memoir"

Judy Brown wrote the controversial novel Hush--a finalist for the 2011 Sydney Taylor Award for outstanding book on the Jewish experience--under a pseudonym because of feared backlash from the Chassidic world. Brown's identity has since been revealed and she has left Chassidism. She has been profiled in The New York Times Magazine and has written for the Huffington Post and the Jewish Daily Forward. She holds a master's in creative writing and lives in New York City.

Brown applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new memoir, This Is Not a Love Story, and reported the following:
Page 99 is a short one in my book; three paragraphs followed by a great blank space. Then starts Part II.

On page 99 my father stands in a cemetery in the high hills outside Jerusalem. It is a week after his thirteenth birthday. He watches as his father’s body, wrapped in a prayer shawl, is carried by a group of orthodox Jewish men. The men lay the body gently down in the open grave. There is tearful mumbling all around, the prayers for the dead. Then the body is covered with spadefuls of dirt.

My fathers’ family is destitute. Things have been this way since my grandfather had been crippled during his work as a milk-man. My mother’s family are well-to-do, the aristocrats really, who live on the other side of the ancient city where the wealthier settle. The two will not meet for years. But when they would, they’d fall in love, get married and we’d be born, my siblings, I, and my afflicted brother. And that’s when the story begins.

Because my afflicted brother carried a madness no one could understand. Without the words to explain or understand it, most would call it a curse, the kind of thing that happens when young men and women fall in love. For in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community where my parents grew up, then raised us, it was (still is) forbidden to fall in love. It is the parents, rabbis and God who decide whom will marry whom in the ancient tradition of arranged marriage. To do otherwise is to bring punishment and unhappiness upon oneself. And so, they said, my brother was born.

But that story unfolds itself on all the rest of the pages, before and after page 99, because from age eight, as the unhappy sister of this very strange brother, I begin to probe into the mystery that is my sibling, just a few months before he is taken away. What I learn takes years to understand, intertwining the present with layers of our past. I learn of the legends, myth and family history, and how much of it began when my father, the orphan, and my mother, the aristocrat, dared go and fall in love.
Visit Judy Brown's website.

My Book, The Movie: This Is Not a Love Story.

Writers Read: Judy Brown.

--Marshal Zeringue