I always have a hard time writing a review of a novel that really doesn’t need my stamp of approval. Chaim Potok‘s The Chosen certainly doesn’t need me to tout it as a great story, but I’ll put my thoughts here for my own benefit, if for no one else’s.
I decided to read The Chosen after reading Janet’s review of Davita’s Harp. I read Davita’s Harp many years ago as an undergraduate student, but I still remember some of the story, which must mean that it made an impression on me. (I often don’t remember what I just said after I said it, much less something I read fifteen years ago.)
The Chosen is Chaim Potok’s first novel, published in 1967. It is the story of Reuven Malter, a practicing Jew, whose father is a teacher, writer, and later, political activist. Reuven and his father live in New York City, where the networks and neighborhoods of Jews are many and varied. The novel opens with a fateful baseball game in which Reuven is injured by a wild ball hit by Danny Saunders, the son of an Hasidic rabbi. Reuven ends up in the hospital, and Danny comes to visit him and the two become fast friends. What entails is really as much Danny’s story as it is Reuven’s. Danny is to inherit his father’s position as rabbi to the Hasidic community in which he lives, but Danny’s brilliant mind is entranced by psychology, not Talmudic studies. Oh, he shines at Talmudic arguments, but his real passion is something forbidden by his father. Reuven becomes Danny’s sounding board and his portal (if only intellectual) into a more liberal sect of Judaism. The story is set during World War II and its aftermath, so the political and emotional ramifications of the Holocaust on the dispersed Jews play an important role in the story.
This story (I keep calling it story instead of novel because although it is 400+ pages, it has the linear, singular purpose of a short story to me) is about so much: friendship, religion, parent/child relationships, the various Jewish responses to the Holocaust. At its heart, it’s really a bildungsroman, but one set in a very religious world. Potok writes in such a way to reveal his characters’ hearts, and that is what makes his books so good.
Just a few random observations: I couldn’t help but think about Brock and Bodie Thoene’s Zion Chronicles while reading The Chosen because the formation of the nation of Israel figures heavily into the plot of Potok’s novel. I also noticed while I was Googling (actually, “Swagbucking“) about the ‘net that The Chosen was made into a movie. Has anyone seen it? Somehow I just can’t imagine Robby Benson as Danny. . .
Well, that’s the end of my rambling thoughts. I enjoyed this novel immensely and read it rather quickly, but I don’t feel like my thoughts here have done it justice. I suppose it will have to be sufficient for me to say that Chaim Potok is an amazing, thought-provoking writer, if you like novels in which religious faith and the secular world collide.