The Oth­ers

  • Review
By – April 27, 2021

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.

Discussion Questions