Boychiks in the Hood: Travels in the Hasidic Underground, by Robert Eisenberg
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. 🙂
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 wordplay 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!