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Beth Miller’s novel posits the question: What happens when you love someone outside of your faith? There are thousands of answers to this question, and arguably loving the ‘wrong’ person is something humans seem pretty good at since we have been doing it for centuries.
The Two Hearts of Eliza Bloom is in many ways a modern day Romeo and Juliet, only Juliet is an orthodox Jew and Romeo is not. The insular and extremely closed-off lives of the orthodox Jewish families described in Miller’s novel are confronting. On the one hand, I feel that underneath all the rules and isolation that there is a fear of losing their Jewishness, and on the other hand many of the rules, especially those relating to women, need to be left in the past.
Eliza has somehow always rebelled against her family: she wore pants when she was 9 years old (which her father beats her for); and she refuses many suitors and delays getting married until she is 23 (which seems to be practically a spinster). When she finally says yes to a good Jewish suitor, Nathan, she meets a non-Jewish man called Alex and falls in love with him. She eventually leaves Nathan on their wedding day to run off with Alex. Her family disowns her, her father and oldest brother Uri are extremely harsh towards her, and by running off she has disgraced her family and turned her back on her faith.
The all or nothing dichotomy that her family puts on her is perhaps the most troubling part of the novel. Eliza finds herself in two places—trying to get back with her family and maintaining a relationship with her husband Alex. These two worlds, however, are not allowed to meet until much later in the novel. I struggle with any kind of way of life that strangles people’s options for love, success, and happiness. I believe it is this ultimatum of us or them is what confuses and causes Eliza the most pain. In an ideal world she could still have her Jewish faith and be with the man she loved. By forcing her to pick, it ultimately results in her screwing up on both sides as she can never just feel at peace.
All of these struggles result in Eliza and Alex separating for a while and Eliza actually tries to go back to her first ‘husband-to-be’ Nathan. When she realises that she cannot go back to her old life, she is also pregnant with Alex’s child. The novel jumps between past and present and throughout the novel Leah, Eliza’s daughter, is struggling with her own identity. Never fully allowed to explore her Jewish roots—a major reason for this being her mother’s exile from her community—Leah tries to find her ‘true’ self as all 14-year-olds are want of doing.
The moral of Miller’s book seems to be that you cannot help who you love. It also highlights that closed-off mindsets about who you can love are ultimately inter-generationally damaging. This, I also hope goes without saying, applies to all mixed relationships whether romantic or platonic, whether it be race, religion, gender, etc..
Have you ever felt that you fell in love with the wrong person because of what your family or community rules were? How did you overcome it? And most importantly, will you be picking up Miller’s novel when it hits the stores in March, 2019? As always, share the reading love.
NOTE: This novel was was accessed through Netgalley and Bookouture for review purposes. Expected publication is March 2019.