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The Outside World


The Outside World

Author:Tova Mirvis
Publisher:Knopf
Genre:Fiction

By Emily Flake | Posted 6/2/2004

A cheery, thoughtful novel, The Outside World takes on weighty themes like religion, family, and personal expectations, and gently weaves them into a narrative about two clans brought together by marriage. Tzippy Goldman, scandalously unmarried at 22, is the eldest daughter of a Brooklyn, N.Y., family of Ultra-Orthodox Jews. As the novel opens, Tzippy is under enormous pressure from her bridally fixated mother to marry somebody, anybody. Chafing under the yoke of embarrassing, unsatisfying dates in the lobby of the Brooklyn Marriott, she moves to Israel to attend school and is rewarded for her bravery by meeting Baruch Miller, who has fled his Modern Orthodox, suburban New Jersey family to study at an Israeli yeshiva.

Baruch, who went by Bryan for most of his life, comes from a family that views his sudden zealotry with mounting confusion and dismay; while observant, they lead a fairly secular life complete with most of the trappings of suburban America. The union of this family with Tzippy's forms the backdrop against which Tova Mirvis deftly explores the meaning of faith and tradition in the modern world. Each family member engages the battle in his or her own way--Tzippy's mother, Shayna, a convert to Orthodox Judaism, pins all her hopes on turning out perfect examples of Jewish womanhood. Tzippy, for her part, manages to make understated yet firm stands for her independence, but is assured in her own faith. Baruch, on the other hand, must wrestle with the traces of his former life, clinging to the letter of Jewish law like a drowning man to a raft. The relative permissiveness of the Miller family then raises the issue of imperfect adherence--if it's OK to break some of the rules, then what's the point of the rest of them?

Mirvis skillfully illustrates the sense of longing in each of her characters for something to believe in and the struggle to live their beliefs in the best way they know how. There are no grand story arcs here, no explosive conflicts, and, most importantly, no finalized resolutions--just a natural, introspective meditation and a story told in a manner that's humble, loving, and sweet.

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