Friday, September 16, 2011

Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman

Kaaterskill Falls follows a close-knit Orthodox Jewish community from NYC who escapes en masse each summer to the mountains of New York.  The characters and many and varied.  Isaac and Elizabeth have five daughters.  Elizabeth yearns for something more, something outside of her cloistered community.  Andras and his adoring older sisters, Eva and Maja enjoy sitting and discussing the frivolities of Andras’ much younger Brazilian wife Nina.  Then there is the venerable Rav whose health is failing and is deciding which of his two sons to name as his successor, the steady, devoted Isaiah or the brilliant, rebellious Jeremy.  The year is 1976 and the community struggles with the inevitable changes that come to a closed community when the outside world creeps in.  

One concept that I found interesting and a bit disturbing was the comment that the Bicentennial Celebration was “not our celebration”.  They felt they were not part of the United States.  They live here, but it was not their history.  They also complained about their children being taught US history and not Jewish history.  On the other had, this community of Jews were not Zionists either and did not feel that Israel was their homeland.  They felt that Israel was run by a bunch of “atheist, socialists” and was not a place where they longed to go.

I ran across this gem of a sentence.  Elizabeth’s oldest daughter Chaini discovered some albums of Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas and Edna St. Vincent Millay reading their poetry.  She describes it as, “Old voices that creaked and swung in rhythm, their long phrases like the screen door on the bungalow, closing slowly, partway, a little more, and then, with a long sigh, thumping shut.” 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, but that may have something to do with my love and fascination with all things Jewish.

4 stars, (Rated PG – for a few sensitive subjects, overall pretty mild)

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