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.