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Boychiks in the Hood: Travels in the Hasidic Underground, by Robert Eisenberg

with 12 comments

This is another in a string of books which I’ve found disappointing lately! I will say, though, before I talk about this one, that I am really enjoying my two current reads. So don’t worry, more positive reviews to come soon. ๐Ÿ™‚

The book is by Robert Eisenberg, a non-religious Jew from somewhere in the U.S., who travels to various Hasidic communities around the world after becoming curious about his own family’s history. I was interested enough in the premise to give this one a try despite the hokey title which was an immediate turn-off. It’s so silly and bad, right? I mean, I like puns and wordplayย  and what have you as much as the next reader, but…*shivers*. It’s tasteless! Or something. Anyway.

What I liked: The book is a survey of sorts which highlights the diversity of Hasidim, which is generally treated as a monolithic set of beliefs/community of people. To be completely honest, I didn’t know that Hasidim wasn’t a monolithic entity before reading this, so that new knowledge made this a worthwhile read to me.

Because it is a sort of survey, though, there wasn’t much room to go into any depth about any of the Hasidic communities Eisenberg visited and this was really annoying to me while reading. I don’t blame Eisenberg entirely for this as the depth I craved would have required a different kind of book from the one he set out to write…

…but I can and do blame him for wayyyy overusing pop culture references. There’s, like, at least one on every page. Some of which don’t even make sense (the band Nirvana as neo-hippies? Um, no). Really, it’s too much. Also, his language does not always reflect the respect he assures the reader he feels for the people he’s writing about: he refers to them more than once as “other-worldy”, with the result of exoticizing them completely, and at one point refers to an individual Hasidic man as a “gnome-like creature”. Yikes. There is also description of a woman in terms of the food he thinks she resembles, remarking that she would make a wonderful subject for some real-life artist famous for depicting women in terms of food, which I thought was kind of creepy and gross (it certainly wasn’t flattering). Unfortunately I can’t reference with page numbers because sadly, I’ve lost my reading notes and am too lazy to search through the book for them, but I promise…this stuff was in there. And it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I guess in the end I can see Eisenberg writing an interesting journalistic magazine article on the subject, but the book felt like just such an article that had been stretched out to achieve book-length without adding any real content, and his style got on my nerves to a severe degree. So I can’t say I recommend this one. I’m glad to be moving on!

Written by Emily Jane

December 16, 2010 at 6:01 am

12 Responses

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  1. This could be really interesting, too bad that it doesn’t manage to have depth. I’ve heard really good stuff about a book about hasidic girls in New York. I can’t remember the title but can look it up.


    December 16, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    • I know exactly the one you’re talking about! I’ve written down the title elsewhere, I’d love to read it.

      Emily Jane

      December 16, 2010 at 5:11 pm

  2. Why did you pick it up in the first place? I like the cover!

    Nirvana as neo-hippies, really? LOL!


    December 16, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    • Haha, yeah. I was interested to know more about Hasidim and didn’t want to judge the book TOO much by it’s title…perhaps I should have gone with my instinct on this one.

      Emily Jane

      December 16, 2010 at 5:13 pm

  3. Hmm. I think I might actually enjoy this book a little more than you did, but I don’t understand the pun of the title. Don’t I feel silly ๐Ÿ˜›


    December 17, 2010 at 3:34 am

    • It’s a play on words more so than a pun, really, but yeah…maybe you would like it better! Take my negativity about it with a grain of salt ๐Ÿ™‚

      Emily Jane

      December 17, 2010 at 3:56 am

  4. Eww… I think I’ll avoid ๐Ÿ˜‰


    December 17, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    • It’s probably better that way.

      Emily Jane

      December 18, 2010 at 12:51 am

      • By the way, what does the title mean / refer to?


        December 18, 2010 at 12:53 am

      • Oh, the glossary in the back of the book says that “boychiks” means youth, so it’s like “boys”…because one of the biggest Hasidic communities is in Brooklyn, so that’s his way of using catchy urban slang, or something, haha.

        Emily Jane

        December 18, 2010 at 2:11 am

  5. Eisenberg must have meant Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were neo-hippies and not Nirvana. That I could understand!!! ๐Ÿ˜€


    December 17, 2010 at 9:26 pm

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