church in mountains

It’s a sickening feeling. That feeling that you don’t belong. That you exist precariously, on the edge of the world, always waiting to be called out as foreign, an imposter. That your existence is dependent on your ability to be a servant or slave, or is entirely called into question.

Study for Obedience, by Sarah Bernstein, is a slim and gorgeous novel. It’s so short it’s almost a novella. And the writing is exquisite: uncommonly beautiful, imaginative, precise.

This 2023 novel is a parable. It’s a story of a woman living on the edge of a small town in a foreign country where she doesn’t speak the language. Her purpose for being there is to care for her older brother (who does speak the language) and his property. When she was a child, her brother “made me understand the necessity of temperance and silence. I had made an essential error when organising my consciousness early on in life, my brother explained, and this was by entertaining the idea that it was reasonable for me to form my own judgements about the world . . .” She gains a secondary purpose in helping the townspeople with farming activities.

But strange things start happening, and you become unsure whether this is meant to be a ghost story or what. By the end of the book, you can see that it is an astonishing parable, and you can connect the story to people and feelings in modern times. But most of the book feels like a creepy tale.

Highly recommended. I don’t say this often, but this book is as perfect as it gets. If I were the editor, I would say, change nothing. Go into the world as you are. Be read. Be seen. Be cherished.

Have you ever felt unseen, uncherished?