This Is Not a Love Sto­ry: A Memoir

  • Review
By – May 19, 2015

This most cer­tain­ly is a love sto­ry. It’s also a com­ing-of-age sto­ry, a family’s sto­ry, and a sto­ry of strug­gling through the unknown.

Judy Brown’s mem­oir instills her own voice and past in Menuchah. Menuchah is one of six chil­dren in an ultra-Ortho­dox Brook­lyn fam­i­ly, and she tells her sto­ry with the earnest­ness, naivete, humor, and gen­tle­ness of a shel­tered eight-year-old.

Menuchah’s par­ents have com­mit­ted the hor­ri­ble sin of falling in love and going against tra­di­tion by not hav­ing their match pre­or­dained in Heav­en. Her moth­er is from a pres­ti­gious Hasidic dynasty and her father is a poor Israeli sol­dier. For this fla­grancy, they are cursed by hav­ing a crazy” son, Nachum. Nachum’s exis­tence caus­es tur­moil for the fam­i­ly, their home, and their lives, and his behav­ior — rages, head bang­ing, lack of lan­guage, and destruc­tive ten­den­cies — take their toll. The par­ents argue, friends won’t come over, the house­hold lives on the edge, hav­oc reigns, and good” mar­riages will be almost impos­si­ble to arrange.

Menuchah con­stant­ly ques­tions why they are cursed. Her life in this strict, insu­lar, and pro­scribed world for young girls is full of mis­in­for­ma­tion, igno­rance, prej­u­dice, myths, and rumors. Her com­mu­ni­ty is seen through her eyes as she is giv­en incom­pre­hen­si­ble rea­sons for Nachum’s afflic­tion. She prays for a need­ed mir­a­cle and tries to bar­gain with God. If she fasts for forty days and forty nights, will Nachum be fixed?

This is the 1980s and 90s, when autism is not yet ful­ly under­stood, diag­nosed, or dealt with.

Read­ers will be absorbed and enveloped by this fam­i­ly and the descrip­tive flow of the sto­ry. Menuchah sharply cap­tures and recounts mem­o­ries of the angst of Nachum’s piz­za fias­co, the love of a prized but hid­den book of fairy­tales, inter­play with girl­friends, Catskill bun­ga­low sum­mers, and vivid images of Jerusalem and Brook­lyn neighborhoods.

Menuchah’s par­ents’ sto­ry is focused on her mother’s search, anguish, and prayers for a bet­ter life for Nachum. Esther won’t put him away,” as many in the com­mu­ni­ty urge her to do, though her hus­band and oth­er chil­dren con­tin­ue to suf­fer. A host of doc­tors and psy­chol­o­gists offer lit­tle hope, and, dis­heart­ened, she final­ly sends him to Israel to live with her sister’s fam­i­ly. There she finds a Jerusalem school and psy­chol­o­gist who can work with him. Esther leaves her fam­i­ly many times a year, laden with expen­sive and guilt=assuaging gifts, to be with Nachum.

It is a long process, but Nachum slow­ly learns lan­guage, appro­pri­ate behav­iors, and can lis­ten, hear, speak, and con­nect with peo­ple in lim­it­ed ways. Menuchah spends a sum­mer with Nachum when she is thir­teen and they estab­lish an emo­tion­al broth­er-sis­ter bond she nev­er thought pos­si­ble when she wished him away years before. Their rela­tion­ship con­tin­ues and there is a hope­ful and upbeat ending.

Brown pro­vides excel­lent and under­stand­able expla­na­tions and dis­cus­sions of autism in doc­u­ment­ing how a spe­cial-needs child affects the cop­ing mech­a­nisms of each mem­ber of a family.

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions