I just finished reading the much-publicized memoir Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman. For those not in the know, the author of this book was raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the ultra-strict Hasidic community of Satmar. The Satmars are known for their various protests: anti-Internet (due to their belief that it corrupts the mind and allows too-easy access to forbidden texts, pictures, and ideas), anti-Israel (due to their belief that Jews should not have attempted to reclaim it themselves and should have waited for the messiah to come), and for their rejection of modernity (though the Satmars live predominantly in the English-speaking world, many are only fully conversant and literate in Yiddish).
Feldman writes that she attended a school where, true to form, most of the students barely learned to read English, that she was forbidden from visiting libraries except for specially approved "kosher" libraries with rabbinically censored books in Yiddish, entered into an arranged marriage at age 17 with someone she had only met once for 30 minutes before they became engaged, and gave birth at 19 before finally deciding to leave the community (and her marriage) at age 23. She now lives a secular life in NYC with her toddler son.
Remarkably, although this book has gotten a ton of publicity, most of the online reviews haven't been reviews per se but outraged claims that the author didn't tell the truth or at least didn't tell the whole truth. This website is entirely dedicated to exposing her apparent lies; the site Failed Messiah, which comments on issues in the Orthodox Jewish world, posted an article here about how she left out of the book the fact that she had a younger sister, and did actually know about sex a bit before the week of her wedding, and that her mother actually left the Hasidic community when she was a teenager and not a young child, and so on.
A few other Jewish blogs have also wondered out loud, or in cyberspace, why Feldman couldn't have remained religiously observant in a less restrictive, more modern style after she left the Satmar community.
All such criticisms are kind of beside the point because a) every memoir selectively leaves certain small things out for the sake of readability and narrative continuity and b) they never even try to claim that Feldman's central theme is flawed. Though Feldman never says it in so many words, every episode in the book essentially delivers the same message, namely: "I was treated like an object and I was valued only insofar as I was able to perform my function. Some people are happy in the Hasidic lifestyle, but those are the people who fit in, and if you fall a tiny bit outside the boundary of what the community considers acceptable, you will always, always suffer."
As for remaining religiously observant after leaving the community, well, why would she have done that? Would it have allowed her to maintain ties with her family? Of course not; she says in the book, quite clearly, that she has been taught since early childhood, and the Satmar community generally believes, that all other practices of Judaism are illegitimate. Feldman also says she thinks she is an atheist. So why anyone even thinks she should be bothered to keep kosher and so on, I have no idea.
Personally, I think this book is great and just flies by. I was fascinated and entertained the whole time, not least by Feldman's realization, at the end of the book once she has left the Satmar community, that she could be successful in the secular world, even enviably successful, precisely because she is different. The one question I had, to be honest, was how she learned such eloquent English... surely it couldn't be only from her mother (who was raised in a non-Hasidic family) and from secret visits to a children's library? And does she really not regret leaving the community, not even at all? Tell me more.