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Exodus by Deborah Feldman
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Exodus by Deborah Feldman
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Mar 25, 2014 | ISBN 9780698135840 | 448 Minutes

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Praise for Exodus

“One woman’s search to understand herself and her Jewish heritage. . . . Rich in details of Jewish life and the lives of her grandparents in the World War II era, [Feldman] sensitively portrays the inner struggles of accepting the pervasive feeling of survivor guilt and her own desires to understand the woman she was becoming. . . . An enthralling account of how one Orthodox Jewish woman turned her back on her religion and found genuineness and validity in her new life.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Feldman’s journey is undeniably and explicitly Jewish, but the aching need to find both a welcoming community and a sense of individuality is one that readers from all walks of life will be able to identify with. Those left unsatisfied with the abrupt ending to Unorthodox will enjoy the more hopeful conclusion to Feldman’s second book as well as her more mature and increasingly eloquent writing style.”Booklist

“Overall, Exodus is a satisfying sequel to Unorthodox, which shows how Deborah Feldman went on to the next step after getting her own freedom from the bonds of a strictly insular society. . . . [A] chronicle of a continuing journey of self-discovery . . . There are many satisfying finds and revelations along the road, but there are also plenty of bumps, frustrations, disappointments, and pitfalls, which is expected when one spends their formative years being closed off from the rest of the outside world, and is confined to the boundaries of a Brooklyn neighborhood. . . . This book is more about the liberation of Deborah Feldman, and how she copes with this newfound sense of freedom and self-discovery, that can be a shock to some, or a declaration of independence for others.”—Stuart Nulman, Montreal Times

“In her first memoir, Unorthodox, Feldman made the courageous choice to cut off ties with her family and the Satmar community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. . . . Now a divorced woman in her twenties, Feldman chronicles the next phase of her life in her new book [Exodus]. . . . A quest of self-discovery . . . Some of the most powerful scenes come when Feldman retraces the path of her female ancestors in Hungary and confronts the anti-Semitism of contemporary Europe. . . . Feldman ultimately discovers that her rightful place is wherever she happens to be.”—The New York Times Book Review

Author Q&A

What is the most challenging aspect of writing memoir for you? How did you determine the structure of the book?
The challenge is finding the narrative arc in your own life, as you are living it. There is so much information to sift through, and it takes time to decide what’s important in terms of the story and what isn’t. Life never fits neatly into the lines, so it requires trimming and condensing in order to achieve a semblance of structure. The process reminds me of a photographer friend of mine whom I have often observed as he works on his photographs: he takes candid, unvarnished shots but spends hours cleaning them up and arranging them all into a series that will tell a story. It feels like that’s where the art really happens.
How did the process for writing Exodus differ from your experience writing Unorthodox? What is the most gratifying part of the writing process for you?

With Unorthodox I had more distance, but interestingly I chose to use the present tense there, in order to feel more immersed in the events as I described them. With Exodus it was all much more recent and I used past tense instead, in an effort to get some distance with which to better see the story. The most rewarding pieces of writing occurred during moments of intense flashback: I’d fall into a trance and wake up five hours later with several thousand words completed. That’s how the scene in my grandmother’s garden developed. I hadn’t thought of that in years and then suddenly it came to me as I was trying to describe the importance of my relationship with her. Writing about what happened in the garden has made the memory much clearer for me, and I treasure it now. I think that’s the most marvelous thing for me about Exodus: it gave me the chance to mine my memory in search of the moments that made me strong, and after that I felt able to “close the book” so to speak, and face the future with more confidence and hope.
Your biography mentions that you are working on your next book. Can you share a little bit about it?

Shifting the focus away from the story of where I come from has opened so many doors for me, it’s hard to pick just one! At the moment I’m shooting a documentary film about women in fundamentalist cultures all over the world, and the material is naturally something I feel compelled to write about in tandem. Then there’s the novel I’ve been working on for the past eighteen months, as well as some personal essays, both of which deal in themes that I already started working with in Exodus. I think I’ll always be deeply invested in exploring the survivor identity and the questions raised by the post-war generation. I have a feeling that I’ll do be doing some of that exploring with a film crew, although writing will always be my first love.

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