September 8, 2014

Invisible City by Julia Dahl

"My mother was a Hasidic.  She fell in love with my dad - a goy - during a period of teenage rebellion.  They had me, named me after my mom's dead sister, and she split - back to the black-coated cult in Brooklyn. There really aren't any ultra-Orthodox Jews where I grew up in Florida, but now that I've moved to New York, I see them every day. They live and work and shop and commute inside the biggest melting pot in the world, but they don't seem to interact with it at all." 

Rebekah is a stringer for The New York Tribune.  She gets sent to cover a story about a woman, Rivka, who was found naked and murdered in a salvage yard.  A yard that happens to be owned by Hasidic Jews, whom also happen to know the murdered woman, who was also a Hasidic Jew.

Rebekah finds herself wrapped up in not only the story of the murder, but also the story of her mother, who came from the same community.

"I've spent twenty years battling the ghost of Aviva Kagan. Fighting to extinguish any emotion involving her. Tamping down anger and longing. Talking myself out of curiosity. My brain and stomach and heart engaged in a fucking war of attrition against any trace of her. And it hasn't worked at all." 

I thought the book had wonderful, complex narratives and Rebekah was very relatable. I loved knowing more about the Hasidic community - both the wonderful parts, and the weirdness of it to an outsider.  Like this tidbit when Rebekah is younger and her father tries to explain why her mother left the community and why she then, again, left her and her father:

"Your mother, said my father, vowed she would not find herself in Naomi's position. She was not ready to run away then, my father said, but she was planning.  She knew that the best way to postpone an engagement was to make herself undesirable to a potential groom's family.  That was the word he used, "undesirable."  When he came to this part of the story, I always pictured my mother burping in public, or parading around in dirty clothes. That's what undesirable meant to me: ugly, unladylike. But that's not what my mother did. What my mother did was start reading--and asking questions."

I learned the Hebrew version of Rebekah is Rivka. (Rivka is the name of the woman found murdered.  Rebekah is the reporter/protagonist.  So they are both named Rivka/Rebekah, basically. Creeptastic.)  But, so, if Rivka is the Hebrew version, what is Rebekah?  The Greek version?  Where did it come from?  It says Rebekah in the Old Testament so I assumed that it was Hebrew.  And what version is Rebecca?  Is this the English spelling?  When was it all translated?  I did a little research via Google but found conflicting information.  I want to delve into this further!

Invisible City is a wonderful story about an entire community living almost invisibly right inside the bubbling modern metropolis that is NYC.  It is at turns insightful, dark, complex, and culturally it was magnetic.  I wanted to know more about the community, not just the murder.  I highly recommend this one.

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