Acts of Assumption

January 1, 2013

Acts of Assump­tion is the sto­ry of two young women who are out­siders with­in their own out­sider tribes. Ser­ach Gottes­man, the inde­pen­dent-mind­ed eldest daugh­ter of a Boro Park Hare­di fam­i­ly is unsup­port­ed — and even­tu­al­ly dis­owned — by that fam­i­ly, for crav­ing both a rig­or­ous sec­u­lar and a gen­der-blind reli­gious edu­ca­tion, for not want­i­ng chil­dren, and for being a les­bian. Palo­ma Rodriguez, the head­strong, ambi­tious Bronx-born daugh­ter of a Colom­bian immi­grant is dis­missed in New York for being Lati­na and in Colom­bia for being a gringa and by mem­bers of both soci­eties for being a lesbian. 

The two women meet under curi­ous cir­cum­stances and form their own lit­tle tribe. They pro­vide each oth­er with love, bal­last and a pecu­liar­ly com­bined sense of faith. But they both also strug­gle with what they’ve had to give up to be true to their own hearts. They learn that some cul­tur­al bonds grip tight and some wounds run deep — and that liv­ing in a mod­ern soci­ety means con­tin­u­al­ly exam­in­ing, ques­tion­ing and try­ing to come to peace with one’s basic assumptions.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of S.W. Leicher

  1. As young girls, Ser­ach and Palo­ma both strug­gle with much of what is expect­ed and what is for­bid­den to them. How much in each girl’s strug­gles relates to the rigid gen­der roles of her cul­ture, how much to her par­tic­u­lar fam­i­ly cir­cum­stances, how much to atti­tudes about gay love and how much to issues that are com­mon to girls across cul­tures? Do either of them accept any of the restric­tions or expec­ta­tions with­out complaint?

  2. In today’s Unit­ed States, is it hard­er to be a Lati­na or a Hare­di Jew? Which is more of an out­sider” cul­ture and why? What defens­es does each cul­ture erect to insu­late and pro­tect itself?

  3. Ser­ach states that what final­ly dri­ves her to leave her home and fam­i­ly was the wigs.” Why was her bat­tle with her moth­er over the wigs the last straw”? What sig­nif­i­cance do wigs — and hair — have in the sto­ry as a whole?

  4. What qual­i­ties in Ser­ach appeal most to Palo­ma? What qual­i­ties in Palo­ma appeal most to Ser­ach? What are the main dynam­ics of their rela­tion­ship and how are those dynam­ics shaped by what draws each woman to the other?

  5. What does Ser­ach mean when she says she doesn’t want to join an egal­i­tar­i­an syn­a­gogue? Is it eas­i­er to give up some­thing entire­ly than to set­tle for some­thing that doesn’t com­plete­ly con­form to one’s desires?

  6. When Palo­ma first meets Frank, she makes sure to sit down at the table with him to share a cup of cof­fee so as to estab­lish her equal­i­ty imme­di­ate­ly and firm­ly.” How big a role do dif­fer­ences in class (as opposed to dif­fer­ences in eth­nic­i­ty or reli­gion) play in her sto­ry? Do they seem to be as impor­tant in Serach’s sto­ry as in Paloma’s?

  7. Palo­ma has a hard time both when she is oper­at­ing in New York as a Lati­na and when she is with her grand­moth­er in Colom­bia oper­at­ing as a gringa.” Is it inevitable for chil­dren of immi­grants to feel some­what ill-at-ease in their par­ents’ adopt­ed coun­try or in their par­ents’ coun­try of ori­gin — or both?

  8. Both Ser­ach and Palo­ma have a range of rela­tion­ships with men and boys. How would you describe those rela­tion­ships? Does the fact that the two women are les­bians have any bear­ing on those rela­tion­ships? How are the men and boys in the nov­el gen­er­al­ly portrayed?

  9. Eth­nic prej­u­dice is a major theme in the book — not just between Jews or Lati­nas and the main­stream” cul­ture but also between Jews and Lati­nas them­selves — and also between each of those cul­tures and oth­er out­sider” cul­tures. How do those prej­u­dices man­i­fest them­selves? Does con­tact with the oth­er” seem to lessen or to exac­er­bate them?

  10. What role does ill­ness play in the nov­el? What role does healing?

  11. Shmue­ly comes in con­tact with a num­ber of women who behave in ways that are out­side the norm” for girls and women in his cul­ture — and who sub­tly or direct­ly chal­lenge his views. When does he seem able to deal with those con­tacts and chal­lenges and when does it become impos­si­ble for him to man­age? Do you think expo­sure to ways of life and think­ing oth­er than his own will ever change him or does he only put up with” dif­fer­ences when cir­cum­stances force him to do so?