Wednesday, April 28, 2010

KAATERSKILL FALLS by Allegra Goodman

At first I was a bit turned off by the subject matter of this book. It's about a group of Orthodox Jews who spend their summers together in a community called Kaaterskill Falls. It became more appealing, though, as I got to know the characters. There's Renee, a teenager whose friend Stephanie encourages her to become marginally more rebellious by quitting her unbearable volunteer post at the day camp and getting a job at the library. There's her father Andras who disapproves of his young wife Nina's constant nagging of Renee to practice at the piano. There are brothers Jeremy and Isaiah, one of whom will take over for their ailing father as the leader of the community. Isaiah has tried to follow in his father's footsteps but can never match his intellectual capacity. Jeremy, on the other hand, is an academic with little regard for religious traditions. (I think it's interesting that the author of this very Jewish book refers to Jeremy as the prodigal son, since that was one of Jesus's most famous parables from the New Testament.) And there's Elizabeth, mother of five daughters, who suddenly decides that she wants to open a kosher store in Kaaterskill Falls. Hers is the primary storyline, as she loses her enthusiasm for life and then has it restored by a comment from Andras, reminding her that in America anything is possible. The boundaries we set are often self-imposed.

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