The Sisters Weiss

The Sisters Weiss
Naomi Ragen

In a very conservative Jewish family, sisters Rose and Pearl grew up close in age and close to one another. Like all sisters, tho, they also envied one another. When Rose, as a young teenager, brought home a book of photographs, Pearl reported her to their parents- with severe consequences.
Rose was sent to live with her grandmother and attend and even more conservative religious school. Instead of reforming her behavior, she took the opportunity to do more forbidden things- even enrolling in a college photography class. Rose’s family made one more attempt to keep her from straying, by arranging a marriage for her. Rose accepted it- until a few days before the wedding,  when her groom told her she would have to give up her beloved photography.
Torn between family and tradition on one hand, and freedom and art on the other, what could Rose do?

The Sisters Weiss jumps forward forty years at this point, for the second half of the book. Both sisters now have daughters of their own- and haven’t spoken to each other in years. Its impossible to summarize without a spoiler for the first half, so I’m just going to leave it there. Except to say that the tension between faith and freedom repeats itself for younger generations.

I have read and enjoyed many of Ragen’s other books. This one, however, struck a surprisingly personal note with me. I also grew up in a very conservative religious family- altho not Jewish, and not as strict as the fictional Weiss family. I can very much relate to the struggles Rose and Pearl face- trying to find their place in both their faith and the world.
In The Sisters Weiss, Ragen has written an interesting story. She has also addresses complicated, real-life issues with understanding and grace.

You might like (both non-fiction): Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood by Leah Vincent


The Storyteller

The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult


I have been a big fan of Jodi Picoult for years now. I have read all of her books and recommended them many times. Most of her books are in a similar vein: she approaches a controversial issue (like euthanasia, abortion, stigmata, gay parents rights, etc) in the context of a story, and narrates it from the viewpoints of different people involved. Her multi-voice narration is her greatest strength; you empathize with even her disagreeable characters. Almost always, she writes a twist into the last few pages of the book. The first of Jodi Picoult’s books I encountered hit my like a sucker-punch; I could hardly breathe when I finished it (My Sister’s Keeper.) But its all too easy for a format to become formulaic, and her last few books haven’t impressed me that much.
The Storyteller is far better than Jodi Picoult’s last two books, and may be my second favorite of her books. Among other things, it deals with issues of faith, assisted suicide and guilt/vengeance. Unusually for this author, the narrative voices range from present to past (during the Holocaust.) Sage is a loner who finds solace in baking, with occasional side trips to a Catholic shrine. Over time, one of her regulars approaches her with an unusual request. When she refuses, he tells her his past as an SS camp guard. In the end, you could say that Sage gives him what he asked for – but you are left wondering if it was what either of them really wanted.

You will like: other books by Jodi Piccoult, Night by Elie Wiesel