What is it about novels that have such a pull on people and their emotions? Perhaps it is the break from everyday life that novels afford their readers. Or maybe it’s the enjoyment of gaining insight into other peoples’ thoughts and feelings, regardless as to whether those “people” are fictional or not, from the comfort and safety of one’s own living room couch. Sometimes, though, there are novels that have the ability to open up new worlds and share a completely different perspective on something. These novels are no less captivating or entertaining, yet they impart a very profound message on all who read them.
Circumstances, by Chana Pincus, is one such novel. It’s the story of an ordinary young woman who finds herself in a heartrendingly out-of-the-ordinary situation. Shoshana’s a seminary graduate who lives in Eretz Yisroel with her husband and works in special education. Typical enough, right? But what even her neighbors and closest friends and relatives don’t know about her is that she is suffering in her marriage.
Her husband Elya isn’t a villain, which is what makes this book hit home so much more. It’s not a wild fiction story where you will find out that Elya has some deep dark secrets. Instead, we meet a man who is learning in kollel, but whose heart is in fact far away from that ideal. Unfortunately, Elya is determined to follow his heart—and he is too self-centered to ever consider his wife’s opinions and feelings along the way.
Their lives would have continued along this way, with Shoshana swallowing her tears and struggling to accept her lot, if not for one of her husband’s adventures that went awry, forcing her to really look at her life and decide that she could take no more. When she decides to divorce, she has to face a society that is slow to understand and quick to condemn.
I think if we are honest, we will all find bits of ourselves in the world the author presents in this book. It’s eye-opening to look at the situation from Shoshana’s perspective. There is nothing “empty” or “waste-your-time-while-you-read-it” about this novel. Besides for Circumstances being an interesting read, there is a whole lot to gain from it.
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