Note: Thanks to Netgalley, Amber Crewe and Hodder & Stoughton, for providing me with a copy of That Jewish Thing , in exchange for an honest review.
Book in One Sentence
Amber Crewe’s That Jewish Thing is a contemporary romance novel, which depicts what it means to be Jewish and how it does not only relate to the history, religion, ethnicity and traditions but also love.
The book opens with Tamsyn Rutman, the protagonist of the story, attending a wedding, Tamsyn comes from a Jewish background and tries her best not to let that define her entire being. This is something she holds against people of similar backgrounds, as, according to her, there is more to the world than being bonded by religion or ethnicity. However, by doing so, she does not seem to be expanding her horizons to accommodate different cultures and traditions. More so, she is closed off to her own culture to the point of denying any role or part in it. Enter Ari Marshall, a guy who is proud of his traditions and firmly rooted in them. Ari’s stance makes Tamsyn irritated. She thinks that they are different from each other when it comes to personalities and interests. However, along the way, various encounters with him show that they have a lot more in common.
Religion plays an inexplicable role in the book. This can be easily predicted from the title of the book. Tamsyn, however, has a less positive view when it comes to embracing her religion. She is not against it. She merely wants to break free of its confinement because, according to her, it only held her back while growing up. And, according to her, it is the same for everyone else. However, by trying to carve her individuality over everything else, she seems to defy her culture, past and traditions that bind her together with people of similar backgrounds. Certain actions taken by her seem to be out of a tendency to defy this tradition out of irritation and annoyance — like, not making any Jewish friends/boyfriends, not keeping kosher and avoiding the Jewish traditions and festivals that everyone else near her holds dear.
In the majority of the story, Tamsyn dates Euan Hegerty, a hotshot chef. They met during an interview and kicked off immediately. Euan is like the epitome of a perfect boyfriend. However, something seems off to Tamsyn. She is very careful not to reveal her personal life to him. Tamsyn wants to hide that part of her life from Euan, even though he is genuinely interested in knowing about them.
While Tamsyn wants to stay away from the traditions, she could not help but bump into Ari Marshall. Ari is a guy who is very comfortable with his ethnicity and culture. With the help of Ari, Tamsyn was able to learn a lot about it and embrace her culture in the end. She also became closer to him as she realised that her initial impression of him was completely oppositely to his real self.
From the very beginning, Tamsyn comes across as someone who is very adamant about protecting her individuality. However, in doing so, sometimes, she defies the very existence she is born into. She is also very protective of not disclosing too much about her background to Euan, which seemed a bit weird, as the very concept of dating someone is to get to know each other. Her idea of individuality was a bit warped, but thankfully, Ari was able to open her eyes to her biases and help her fix them along the way.
The ending was pretty much predictable for me — Ari and Tamsyn get together, and the latter develops a closer connection to her faith. Tamsyn was able to bridge the gap between individuality and culture, and work on her biased view regarding religion and the people who practice it. We do not get to see a proper ending with Euan, but it is justified to say that he serves as the typically perfect guy, who reflects the fact that not all good stuff is perfect for everyone.
Significance of the Title
Since the story revolves around Jewish traditions and culture, the title of the novel is pretty literal in this case. We get to a lot of practices and rituals relating to Judaism. It forms the very core of the story.
I liked the concept of That Jewish Thing. Although, in this story, the author focuses on one particular religion, I believe that we can derive the essence of the plot and relate to it in different ways, irrespective of religion and culture. I believe that this kind of existential crisis is very common for today’s young Millennials and Gen-Z. We are still on a journey of finding ourselves. And with the advent of globalisation and diversity, most of the time, our cultures clash with our identity. In a way, we often struggle to find a good balance between our social and individual roles. Tamsyn enacts that particular struggle in the novel. However, sometimes Tamsyn’s personality irritated me. While she wanted to get away from the world she grew up in, because, according to her, no one understands it from outside, she also brushes off Euan’s attempts to get to know her culture better and gets quite irritated when he gets something wrong regarding that. Sure, her struggle made sense and I fully empathise with that. However, I did feel like she was holding onto certain biases that could have been outgrown in the long run.
The intricate details of Judaism were beautifully expressed in the book. And it also showed the camaraderie between people, who have not forgotten the ill-gotten atrocities committed against them and yet, they continue to flourish and expand through acts of love and faith. The characters are three-dimensional and well-written. Tamsyn’s character development is evident as the story went on. I loved how she went on to fix her biases and grow to love her faith and culture while maintaining a level of individuality.
Here’s the thing you need to remember about who we are. Not just our family, but about the Jewish people. We came very close to not being here at all. And before the Shoah, there are centuries worth of people who don’t want us to be here. After the Shoah? Much the same. So, what happens after centuries of persecution? You become defensive and protective. It’s a natural instinct.Amber Crewe, That Jewish Thing
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