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Thoughts on “Hush” by Eishes Chayil

Hush by Eishes Chayil is an ARC I’ve had waiting on my shelves for several months now. I finally got to it during the April Readathon and have finally remembered to post about it!

About the Book:

Hush by Eishes Chayil (cover)Hush begins with one friend calling to another. Gittel, now seventeen and the story’s narrator, speaks to her friend Devory, who died when she was ten. The memory has haunted Gittel for the past seven years, and as the novel moves forward, she shares its circumstances only reluctantly and with time. As Gittel tells her story, she moves between the year of Devory’s death and the present.

Gittel and Devory are part of a closed Chassidic Borough Park neighborhood where everyone knows each other and strict rules govern every aspect of life. The community is so rigid that as events unfold, Gittel comes to the painful realization that there is no space for what happened to Devory within it. Hush is Devory’s story as well as Gittel’s struggle to deal with it.

My Thoughts:

Hush is both a fascinating and powerful story. The fascinating aspect, for me, was seeing how Gittel’s Chassidic community functioned: school, jobs, gender roles, match-making, marriage, and even explanations of everyday things to children. For instance, having a husband who did nothing but study the Torah was so highly valued that wives would gladly function as both sole provider and homemaker. And then there was the issue of reputation; secrets were locked up as tightly as possible so that they couldn’t seep out into the community and ruin a daughter’s marriage prospects. Or how a bride and groom didn’t find out what would happen on their wedding night until just before the wedding.

Hush is powerful because of the story it exposes. Gittel is faced with enormous pressure to keep quiet. Speaking out would ruin the reputations of her family and Devory’s, not to mention draw the attention of law enforcement and the outside world to the exclusive community. Gittel is plagued by memories and dreams of her friend, yet the obstacles to doing what seems right appear insurmountable. How do you shed light on a situation an entire community refuses to acknowledge ever occurred?

My favorite character, and the only one outside of the Chassidic community, was Kathy, who lives with her husband upstairs from Gittel’s family. Christian, kind, and a bit mentally unstable, Kathy is irresistible to Gittel and Devory. Against the reader’s (and perhaps Gittel’s own) expectations, Kathy is a friend to the girls and a support to Gittel after Devory is gone. I could never really tell if Kathy knew what was going on, but she was the only warm presence in a novel of cool exteriors.

As I read Hush, I learned that Eishes Chayil is a pen name. In fact, an Eishes Chayil is, I learned, a Woman of Valor, an ideal wife. And in the author’s note, which you can read here, Eishes Chayil explains how Hush is based on her own personal story. The pen name and the personal connection added a deeper layer to Hush and made its impact even more profound.

While Hush is labeled for ages 14 and up, I, as an adult, found it to be a great read. Gittel comes across as childlike, but that’s because (a) for half the book she is a child, and (b) children in her community were so sheltered from the outside world that they couldn’t help but sound ignorant. The passages narrated by the older Gittel, though, are imbued with a strength and wisdom that makes Gittel seem older than she is, in spite of her ignorance. I think Hush would appeal to readers of adult and young adult fiction alike.

Those are my thoughts. Check out Hush by Eishes Chayil on GoodReads or LibraryThing, or read a plethora of other bloggers’ reviews!

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  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    Oh this does sound like a really interesting book about a subject and community that I know so little about. I would love to read this one and am glad that you found it so engrossing. Great review!

    • Erin

      I knew (and still know) very little about the subject and community here, and I thought this novel was a very good introduction. I always enjoy novels that take you inside some closed or obscure community and shed a little light on what it finds there.

  • http://perduedansleslivres.blogspot.com virginie

    Thanks to you, this book has been on my pile since January! I’ll try to read it by the end of this year, the topic and background are really interesting.
    Have you ever read any book by Naomi Ragen ?
    She writes about american jewish communities too. I’ve been recommended to read her first book “Jephte’s daughter”, which I’ve never heard about until recently, when a french translation was published last year.

    • Erin

      Yay! I’ve heard of Naomi Ragen, but I haven’t read anything by her. I think maybe my mother has recommended her books to me. That was a long time ago, though, and I’d forgotten. Thank you for the reminder!

  • http://www.reviewsbylola.wordpress.com Stephanie

    I am unfamiliar with this book but I like the fact that it delves into a facet of Judaism that is not commonly seen in literature.

    • Erin

      Yes, it showed me a community I don’t know much about and that isn’t commonly written about. It was very interesting, and provided a good story, too.

  • http://www.coffeeandabookchick.com Coffee and a Book Chick

    I’m really excited to read this one – I can’t imagine why I haven’t jumped all over it yet!

    • Erin

      The intention to jump all over a new book is so often there, but all those other stacks of books in between you and the new one get in the way! At least, that’s how it is in my experience :-)

  • http://Www.lifewithbooks.com Jenners

    It made it even more interesting to me that the author had to use a pen name to write this book.

    • Erin

      Me, too. Once I read a little about the author and her personal experience, I understood, though.

  • http://www.buriedinprint.com BuriedInPrint

    I’ve been putting together a list of books on this theme (Naomi Regan is on there too, Virginie) so am happily adding this to the ever-growing list. The interplay between reality and fiction only adds to the intrigue. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    • Erin

      It sounds like this one would work for your list! I was intrigued by the reality-fiction overlap, too.