The Book of Separation

  • Review
By – April 4, 2017

Tova Mirvis has spent her lit­er­ary career writ­ing from per­son­al expe­ri­ence. Her nov­els focus on fam­i­ly and roman­tic rela­tion­ships, on the Jew­ish Ortho­dox world, and on how those two things can affect a per­son. Tra­di­tion and respon­si­bil­i­ty hang heav­i­ly over each of her characters.

The same fac­tors bur­dened Mirvis’s own life. In her recent mem­oir, The Book of Sep­a­ra­tion, Mirvis details her real­iza­tion that Ortho­doxy was not her home, even though she was con­vinced it was for so long. She grew up in a small town, attend­ed an Ortho­dox school, par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Ortho­dox Youth Move­ment, and went to an Ortho­dox sem­i­nary in Israel; Mirvis felt like her life was laid out for her — fore­told by her ances­tors. She mar­ried young and fol­lowed all the strict rules that young Ortho­dox cou­ples must fol­low. She and her hus­band had three chil­dren togeth­er, moved to a sub­urb of Boston, and cre­at­ed a life exact­ly like that of all oth­er cou­ples in their com­mu­ni­ty. Mirvis hat­ed it and was beg­ging for a way out.

The ques­tions Mirvis asks her­self — about what her mar­riage means to her, how to deal with her kids (who still live in the com­mu­ni­ty from which she has been shunned), and what led her to this junc­ture — are incred­i­bly per­son­al and yet high­ly relat­able. As the author of such an intro­spec­tive mem­oir, Mirvis clear­ly lived a sur­face-lev­el exis­tence for too many years. Her inter­nal dilem­ma even affects her writ­ing. A nov­el is left unfin­ished for years because she fears that com­plet­ing it would require her to make dif­fi­cult deci­sions in her own life.

Ini­tial­ly, the book may take some time to get into. Mirvis’s thoughts bom­bard you, the words rid­ing on her train of thought. Soon how­ev­er, you real­ize that she is dis­cov­er­ing things about her­self along with the read­er; her thoughts are not ful­ly formed until they hit the page. The book is a form of ther­a­py, a cathar­sis. She toils through her deci­sions and her emo­tions in a way that only a stu­dent of Tal­mud can.

Mirvis real­izes her Ortho­doxy is so ingrained in her — going back gen­er­a­tions — that shed­ding this skin will take a great deal of strength. While she hangs onto her old life, she des­per­ate­ly wants to start a new one. Mirvis longs for free­dom so much that you want it for her — and then look inter­nal­ly and want it for your­self, too. This book is inspir­ing in a way it prob­a­bly wasn’t meant to be; Mirvis wants every­one to live a life of truth and hon­esty because she didn’t. She has no agen­da, no ill-will. Her resent­ment is towards her­self and no one else. Her intro­spec­tion has led to a new life of empow­er­ment, and she isn’t look­ing back.

Libi is a first-time mom liv­ing in New Jer­sey. She works in fundrais­ing and events at Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty and is pur­su­ing a master’s degree in Marketing.

Discussion Questions