The Outside World


I started The Outside World by Tova Mirvis on Shabbat and finished this morning. It is a novel I thoroughly enjoyed and which I strongly recommend.

The cast:
The Millers (Modern Orthodox)
Naomi: The mother. Always trying to please everyone and accomodate the different members of her family. Reads handbooks for help.
Joel: The father. The skeptic in the family. Spends time at work or reading when he can no longer cope with his family. Can’t understand his son since the latter came back from Israel and became ultra-religious. Misses the time they used to spend together but can’t bring himself to tell him.
Ilana: The daughter. The typical teenager. Slips from childhood to adolescence within a few months. Looking for role models while rejecting the ones she has got.
Bryan: The son. Or should I write Baruch? Spent two years in yeshiva in Jerusalem and only came back to get married despite his parents’ disapproval. Is overjoyed such a beautiful and religious girl as Tzippy is willing to marry him. Chooses to renounce Columbia and yeshiva to work in a kosher store instead, hoping this would leave him time to study; which of course it doesn’t.

The Goldmans (right-wing Orthodox)
Shayna: The mother. Has been planning her eldest daughter’s wedding since before she was born. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she wasn’t brought up religious and is afraid people might see through her and consider her a fake.
Herschel: The father. Always convinced fortune is round the corner if only he can find the right idea but always broke. His obsessions annoy everybody else but he is the only one not noticing.
Zahava, Malky, Dena and Dassi: The youngest daughters. Long for their sister to marry the fairy tale Jewish prince of their mother’s dreams.
Tzippy: The eldest daughter. Dreams to get married but also to escape her mother’s world and idée fixe. Is only too happy when she meets Bryan and he seems to provide exactly what she is looking for: a different family, more exoticism and romance.


Baruch gave them more details, none of which made Joel feel better. They were planning to get married as soon as possible. He would continue learning, in a yeshiva in New York for the next few years. She would teach nursery school to support them. “Spending the first years of marriage in yeshiva gives us a foundation for the rest of our lives,” Baruch said, making Joel feel as if he were quoting sentences from a primer his rabbi had given him, How to Become Religious and Alienate People.

She knew that this wasn’t what people expected of her. Going to college seemed like a radical departure from what her life was supposed to be. It was the litmus test among her friends. it marked you as being modern or not… She had seen it as something to be stamped out, or at least ignored. But now she ralized she had been wrong. It wasn’t the voice of her evil inclination after all. It was the voice of her imagination, and it was calling to her.

8 thoughts on “The Outside World

  1. This may be the only book that both I and my mother-in-law enjoyed (her tastes run to mysteries and bestsellers, mine to classics and American history). I thought it painted much more authentic characters than Mirvis’s first novel (The Ladies’ Auxiliary, whose main character–a convert–was totally unconvincing to me), and the tensions and conflicts in the families really interesting. My mother-in-law felt like she was reading part of her own life story (she would be the mother of the ba’al teshuva son, though the Cap’n is nowhere near as frummy as Baruch). I look forward to seeing what Tova (who attends my shul in America) comes out with next.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s