Eishes Chayil or Woman of Valor has a sacred meaning in the Jewish faith. Until I read Hush by one of the many Eishes Chayil's of the world, I had never heard of that term. After reading this book, I take it to mean a woman who honors her husband, family, and community. It would be dishonorable to speak against or to make unimaginable allegations against members of your community. One such young woman, Gittel, struggles internally with whether or not to bring the sexual abuse of her deceased friend, Devory, to light.
Alternation between 2003 and the present day, we meet 10-year-old Gittel living with her very traditional Chassidic family in Borough Park, Brooklyn. Go to school, obey your parents, stay away from the influences of the "goyim" (a.k.a the outside world), and marry to procreate for love. Those are the rules one must live by. Gittel's family and community are in their own bubble, with no room for straying from tradition. But even Gittel is a little rebellious. She eats "semi" Kosher candy from her "goyim" neighbor Kathy, who is a little bit of crazy. Even sneak reading an issue of Oprah magazine is considered daring amongst her friends. Gittel even watches TV, and has long talks with Kathy. And above all else, Gittel is a loyal friend to Devory.
Devory is the odd duck of the community, marching to the beat of her own drum. Devory has a taste for adventure. She wants to climb and explore things her parents tell her not to. But slowly the light, the sparkle drain from Devory. She loses herself in books, tuning out the world. Running away from home, to the safety of Gittel's home is short-lived, as she is always sent back to her own home -- a place she doesn't want to be. One day Gittel witnesses a horrible act, Devory being sexually abused. It's hard to imagine how a child of any faith or race can understand what they are seeing. Is this normal? Will it happen to them? Do you scream for help? The author put Gittel through all of these emotions. When the act happens, it is hard to read, but it is written in a very realistic way. Devory's reaction also rings true. She shuts her eyes tight, hoping it won't happen to her. Hoping if she pretends to be asleep, everything will be ok.
Meanwhile Devory is dying inside. Her spirit snuffed out. When the book opens, Devory is already dead. How she dies? Well you will just have to read the book to find out! Gittel spends the rest of her dwindling childhood and teen years struggling with guilt. Letters to Devory offer some comfort, but lingering nightmares haunt Gittel. Kathy encourages Gittel to go to the police, even if doing so will alienate her from her family and community. Gittel can't be a true Woman of Valor within the community if she brings in the police.
With each chapter the suspense builds. We know Devory is dead, but how and why that came to be are offered in little nuggets, leaving you wanting for more.
The novel offers a great insight into the Chassidic community. The writer is operating under a pseudonym, but based on the bio and author's note at the end, she is a member of the Chassidic community. The author's unique perspective ring true in the characters. Gittel and others are forced to examine what is foreign to them. Even the word "rape" is foreign to the characters. There are no words for sexual abuse and rape, because it's not supposed to happen in their community. Things like that only happen in the "goyim" world. Even when there is knowledge of abuse, it is ignored or dismissed as lies. By bringing the abuse to light in the form of a book, the author is still a Woman of Valor. After all how honorable is it to ignore sexual abuse?
Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher as part of a blog tour.