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Book Review–The Chosen by Chaim Potok

chosenI 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.

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10 Responses

  1. This is a great “book engagement.” I so relate about “reviewing” books that don’t need my rating, but this post reminds me that it’s always good to write about our reading anyway. You reminded me of some parts and brought out some things I hadn’t noticed.

    Isn’t it hard to believe a book like this could be someone’s first novel?

    I had no idea there was a movie!

  2. I am thankful when people review books, because it’s really the biggest way that I find the books I read. I’m definitely going to hunt this one down at my library – see, I never would have read it without you posting!

    Is it Thursday already?!? We’re moving this week, I hope to get all our books unpacked and participating in Read Aloud Thursday in the next week or two. I love reading all of your reviews!

    ~Monica
    http://www.vikingpress.blogspot.com

  3. I was pleased to see your review of this great novel, because I would have presumed most folks would have forgotten about it or simply never heard of it. Blogging about the books that we’ve enjoyed is a great way to share, and its why I like following book blogs.

    I read The Chose in the 10th grade for American Lit, roughly 1972-73 and loved it tremendously, so I read at least two more books by Potok that were also excellent: The Promise is one, and the other I’ve forgotten the name of – about a young man becoming an artist.

  4. Oh man. My mom gave me this book and I had NO IDEA what it was about AT ALL and so it’s just been sitting there on my shelf “taking up space.” I’m so glad you went ahead and reviewed and shared your thoughts!

  5. Oh and I see that I just proved the point of dmsahrp! 😉

  6. Okay, now I feel validated, bumbling thoughts and phrasing and all. : )

  7. […] really enjoyed this short novel.  (I keep saying “short” because I just finished this novel which was anything but short.)  It is a rather simple story; one might even call it predictable.  […]

  8. I LOVE Potok! My favorite of his novels is MY NAME IS ASHER LEV, but I’m a fan of this one as well. Thanks for your thoughtful review!

  9. […] Is the Word (Mr. Popper’s Penguins)5. Amy @ Hope Is the Word (In Search of Mockingbird)6. Amy @ Hope Is the Word (The Chosen by Chaim Potok)7. Amy @ Hope Is the Word (Read Aloud Thursday)8. Moomin Light (Neverwhere)9. SuziQregon (Miss Julia […]

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