The Mar­riage Box

  • Review
By – May 1, 2023

In this crisp com­ing-of-age nov­el, Corie Adj­mi coura­geous­ly takes on a sub­ject close to her heart, and one that has not yet been told through the female lens: the world of the Jew­ish Syr­i­an girl.

Casey Cohen, Adjmi’s teenage pro­tag­o­nist, has been raised by Syr­i­an Jew­ish par­ents in the sec­u­lar city of New Orleans. When she is caught engag­ing in dan­ger­ous ado­les­cent behav­ior, her alarmed par­ents decide to move the fam­i­ly back to the tight-knit Brook­lyn com­mu­ni­ty from which they came — a world that is struc­tured, safe, and high­ly con­trolled. Casey is sum­mar­i­ly yanked out of her New Orleans prep school and enrolled in an ultra-Ortho­dox Brook­lyn yeshi­va, a reli­gious school where boys and girls learn in sep­a­rate class­rooms and the over­rid­ing ethos is mar­riage trumps col­lege.” The mar­riage box is an actu­al place behind a swim­ming pool where sin­gle Syr­i­an girls lounge on dis­play. They pose in flat­ter­ing posi­tions, lying on their backs to keep their stom­achs flat, flaunt­ing their fresh­ly waxed tan legs, hop­ing to attract their naseeb, their God-giv­en intended.” 

Casey finds her­self caught between two dra­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent cul­tures, each with its own agen­da. New Orleans sym­bol­izes Amer­i­ca, where indi­vid­ual free­dom is fanned and fueled, and where cit­i­zens are expect­ed to pur­sue their own dreams and desires. As attrac­tive as this may sound, indi­vid­ual free­dom con­tains pit­falls of its own. And while the Brook­lyn Jew­ish Syr­i­an com­mu­ni­ty con­stricts and restricts, it also has its own unique allure.

The author real­is­ti­cal­ly depicts the wide range of feel­ings expe­ri­enced by an indi­vid­ual caught in Casey’s sit­u­a­tion. Casey strug­gles with an over­whelm­ing need to belong. She pines for a com­mu­ni­ty she can call her own, one that will not only tell her who she is but also ground her. The Mid­dle East­ern enclave offers her just that: a high-end, afflu­ent life with an instant iden­ti­ty. Should she resist? Can she? 

Ulti­mate­ly, at the age of eigh­teen she mar­ries Michael, a Syr­i­an Jew. When you’re eigh­teen,” Casey says, you think your dreams are unde­ni­able truths. At least I did. I had no clue my brain was still devel­op­ing or that dur­ing my first year of mar­riage, I’d grow an inch.” 

And so do we, as we live Casey Cohen’s raw and rid­dled life. 

Esther Ami­ni is a writer, painter, and psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic psy­chother­a­pist in pri­vate prac­tice. She is the author of the high­ly acclaimed mem­oir Con­cealed—Mem­oir of a Jew­ish Iran­ian Daugh­ter Caught Between the Chador and Amer­i­ca, and her short sto­ries have appeared in Elle, Lilith, Tablet, The Jew­ish Week, Barnard Mag­a­zine, TK University’s Inscape Lit­er­ary, and Prox­im­i­ty. She was named one of Aspen Words’ two best-emerg­ing mem­oirists and award­ed its Emerg­ing Writer Fel­low­ship in 2016. Her pieces have been per­formed by Jew­ish Women’s The­atre in Los Ange­les and in Man­hat­tan and she was cho­sen by JWT as their Artist-in-Res­i­dence in 2019.

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