Sarah Blau’s The Others is a fast-paced thriller that wrestles with nuanced questions of femininity in relation to Judaism, aging, and motherhood.
Sheila is a middle-aged feminist scholar studying the childless women of the Jewish pantheon and working at a biblical wax museum in the heart of the Orthodox community in Tel Aviv. When her former best friend and colleague, Dina, is found murdered with a baby doll glued to her hands and the word “mother” carved into her forehead, Sheila becomes haunted by memories of her college friend group, who called themselves “The Others” and pledged never to have children. As the investigation escalates, and Sheila finds herself caught between being a suspect and a potential victim, ghosts from her past reemerge, forcing her to reckon with the vow she made many years ago, and what it means to be a woman without children in this day and age.
Blau’s writing is stark and evocative – every word feels intentional and carefully chosen – and Sheila is an excellent narrator, her unreliability and withholding nature making the central mystery of the plot all the more tangled. And as an older, childless Jewish woman on the fringes of Orthodoxy, she has a perspective that is refreshing and unique.
At once tense and tender, this novel isn’t afraid to embrace the nuance of its complex central questions. Rather than providing any concrete answers, or veering into preachiness, all of Blau’s characters feel realized and human. The story is driven by Sheila herself, and the ruminations on motherhood and religion aren’t forced — they’re a byproduct of an excellently crafted narrative, with a payoff that is both satisfying and haunting.
The Others is a compelling read, full of thought-provoking ideas and perfect for book clubs and inquisitive individuals alike.