Lingering memories from the first time I read this book assured me that the resolution I hoped for would be realized at the end. Like the experience of childbirth, however, it seems I only remembered the joy-filled and delightful pieces of the journey.
Don’t let fear of labor pains stop you from reading this tale about a young widow named Batsheva who leaves New York with her daughter, Ayala, to settle in the Memphis community where her late husband had grown up. Her differences were immediately apparent, and Batsheva’s presence later takes the blame for the ensuing changes that unsettle this close-knit community.
The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis is a novel layered with emotion, complexity, and authenticity. Mirvis gently and expertly dives into the hidden secrets and fear of exposure that exists in the orthodox neighborhood of Memphis. The Ladies Auxiliary mirrors what is happening within all religions, communities, friendships, and – yes –marriages – where we are afraid to admit that the world’s realities do not match up with our ideal hopes. Tova Mirvis delves into the vulnerabilities and uncertainties of the Jewish orthodox world, which always seems to stand so adamantly in its beliefs.
One of the brilliant components of the author’s writing is the narrating voice. Spoken as a “we”, each of the women in this Memphis community tells a piece of this story. In doing this, Mirvis provides her readers the opportunity to witness the fears and secrets these women work so hard to hide. In this way, we observe their individuality as well as hear the communal voice they work so hard to maintain. As the tale unfolds, these women prudently observe, harshly judge, willingly embrace, and – ultimately – shun Batsheva from their community.
Batsheva has no inhibitions about being herself and naively expects to slide right in to life in Memphis. Her approach to life – her naïve joy, her candor, and her creative expression – are too much for this community.
This is a beautifully written book that is difficult to read. Tova Mirvis brings life’s truths, challenges, and struggles to the forefront. She addresses the things we are most comfortable tucking away.
Despite the growing conflict, Tova Mirvis portrays Judaism in a beautiful light. Readers will simultaneously feel exasperation toward and inspiration for their Jewish heritage. She addresses the outward appearance and the internally voiced conflict that lives within most of us. She tenderly displays the pieces of ourselves we try to ignore – like shrimp salad in the back of the freezer, hidden away for our secret pleasure (as does one of our esteemed Ladies Auxiliary women).
To read The Ladies Auxiliary is to embark upon a journey of a community facing change and crumbling. But the reader will leave Memphis with the hope that the community is strong enough to build again and that each individual will find his or her way in the newness that lies before them. We see that something new coming into something old can be difficult but essential and that a world that seems unchangeable can, indeed, be changed.
I purchased this book for myself. If you would like to read The Ladies Auxiliary, you can purchase it on Amazon where I am an Affiliate Member: