Chains Around the Grass is an interesting and somewhat disturbing story about a young girl growing up in a dysfunctional family. In this emotional story, Naomi Ragen chronicles the childhood of Sara Markowitz.
In 1955, Sara's father died, leaving her mother, Ruth, to raise three children on her own. As unstable as their lives were before their father died, the children find that things only become more difficult once he is gone. Their mother must continually struggle to make ends meet, even to the point of accepting the shame of going on public assistance. Yet she keeps trying to drag herself and her children out of their life of poverty.
The impact on Jesse, the eldest child, is the most severe. He feels that as 'man of the house' it falls upon him to support the family. When he fails, he is traumatized. Yet it is the younger Sara, who is about six when her father dies, upon whom the story focuses. Chains Around the Grass is primarily a coming-of-age story in which we follow Sara as she grows into a young lady and experiences an emotional and spiritual awakening that serves to make her a strong and self-assured young woman.
This powerful novel is based, at least in part, upon Ragen's own childhood growing up in a housing project in New York. This story is a bit melodramatic, yet this added drama only intensifies the feelings and emotions exhibited by the characters. The only real flaw I found is that the focus of the story is so tight that you do not get any real sense of how the lives of the Markowitz's compare to others in their situation. Otherwise, this is a commanding coming-of-age story.
The Sacrifice of Tamar, by Naomi Ragen.
Shortly after Tamar was raped, she discovers that she is pregnant. She does not know, however, whether the child is her husband's or the rapist's. Living in an insular religious community, Tamar is fearful that she will be shunned if she tells anyone about the assault. For a while she is successful at keeping her secret - but when the truth is tragically discovered - everyone suffers, including her son and his new wife...
Sotah, by Naomi Ragen.
Dina Reich has been accused of committing adultery by members of the Morals Patrol. Unwilling to face the shame of the accusation, and unable to explain the situation to her husband, Dina flees, leaving behind her husband and her infant. In this novel, Ragen recounts the events leading up to the accusation, and how Dina manages to rebuild her life and her faith.