Here’s another book review for you. As always with my reviews, if you hate spoilers, read no further until you’ve gotten ahold of “Hush” by Eishes Chayil (Judy Brown) and read it for yourself — or decided not to read it.
Judy Brown first published “Hush” under the pseudonym Eishes Chayil (“Woman of Valor”) because of her novel’s subject: the near impossibility of discussing — and, thus, trying to heal from — child sexual abuse in her ultraorthodox Jewish community. Like her second book, “This Is Not A Love Story,” “Hush” is semi-autobiographical, very expressively written, and told from the point of view of a child, then teenager, then young woman. Gittel, age 9, saw her best friend Devory being sexually abused by her older brother. Devory acts out her pain and desperation, since her parents and teachers refuse to listen to her, and finally hangs herself with a jump rope in Gittel’s bathroom. Gittel feels terrible pain and guilt over this, and can receive no help for it until, as a young married woman, she breaks with tradition by naming her first child after her friend and demanding that the issue of child sexual abuse be addressed by the community.
In the novel’s afterword Brown writes, “We didn’t need the outside world. We had our own…We built walls, and built them high. The walls would keep the gentiles and their terrifying world far away. The walls would protect us and shelter us — and as we built them higher, thicker, wider, we forgot to look inside. We forgot that the greatest enemies always grow from within…This is a story I wrote about life in the ultra-Orthodox Chassidic world — about our joy, about our warmth, and about our deep denial of anything that didn’t follow tradition, law, or our deeply ingrained delusions. It’s a story told through the eyes of children, those who need to learn to understand how and why it happened to them, and those who need to find a way to survive it. This is for all the children — past and present — who still suffer. I have used a fictitious name, Yushive, for the main sect in Hush, because I refuse to point a finger at one group, when the crime was [is] endemic to all.”
Indeed, the sexual abuse of children occurs in almost all human groups, especially, it seems those that for religious reasons impose unnatural strictures on sexuality. Unfortunately, these are also societies in which the discussion of such a problem tends to be taboo.