My first novel,'Disobedience' was published in the UK by Penguin in 2006 and in the USA by Simon & Schuster in 2007. It's been published in 10 languages. In the UK, I won the Orange Award for New Writers, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and a Waterstones Writer for the Future Award. In the USA I was shortlisted for the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction and the Sami Rohr Prize.
'Disobedience' is the story of Ronit, a 32-year-old rabbi's daughter from an Orthodox Jewish community in Hendon, northwest London. She left London years earlier, is now working in finance in Manhattan but the death of her father Rav Krushka brings her back home. And it's the story of Esti, Ronit's childhood friend, who stayed in Hendon even though the community consider her strange. And it's the story of Dovid, Esti's husband; he's heir presumptive to Rav Krushka, but doesn't seem to want the post.
The novel is about the meeting place between religion and modern life, between sexuality and spirituality, between our own desires and the demands of the communities we live in and the God we worship. It's about the importance of changing, and also about the things that we inevitably lose when we do. It is about the power of silence and the power of speech, and the quintessential human characteristic of disobedience.
Here are some reviews...
It is a wonderful novel. There is wonder in the plotting, which presents Esti and Ronit together or apart in ways that defy conventional expectation. But the real wonder is in Alderman's capacity for original thinking. Nothing is quite as the lazy-minded might expect it to be: forbidden desire is not unequivocally good, deterministic religion is not unequivocally bad. Orthodoxy (as much as Ronit's dissent from it) absolutely glows out of the pages of Disobedience, as rich and fresh and fascinating as this lovely novel itself.
It is ultimately a tale of love lost and a paean to the contentment that self-sacrifice can bring. Each chapter starts with a snippet of sacred text, whose themes elegantly shape the action that follows, making for a book of burnished depth. It would be easy to mock the way that Esti and her neighbours submit to such ancient and complex laws but, while Alderman has a bold comic touch, she consistently reaches beyond the obvious.
Alderman's commentary on Orthodox Judaism in the 21st century is thought-provoking and illuminating, and she has the comic's gift to assassinate from within with compassion.
Disobedience is an accomplished and absorbing debut. Its thrust comes from the evolving triangular relationship between Dovid, Esti and Ronit - three very different characters who must react to the same strictures. Each has a different relationship with God and, perhaps more importantly, with tradition and the culture they have come from.