The Chosen

7 03 2012

“A book is sent out into the world, and there is no way of fully anticipating the responses it will elicit. Consider the responses called forth by the Bible, Homer, Shakespeare – let alone contemporary poetry or a modern novel.” (Chaim Potok)

When I first read Chaim Potok’s masterpiece, The Chosen, I was stunned by his understanding of the human condition.  Potok, trained in Rabbinic Judaism, exhibits a deep knowledge of human beings, their idiosyncrasies, foibles and strengths.

The Chosen is the story of two teenage Jewish boys growing up in World War II Brooklyn.  Reuven, the protagonist, is the bright son of a noted Conservative Jewish scholar named David Malter.  Reuven’s friend is a genius—Danny Saunders, the son of a celebrated Hasidic rebbe and heir to his father’s Hasidic dynasty.

Danny is beyond brilliant.   A modern incarnation of the Vilna Gaon.  He has an eidetic memory but is bored with Talmud study which he knows cold.  He wants to be a psychologist, something distinctly verboten to a Hasid.  He loathes the idea of becoming his father.  His appetite for learning is voracious, something with which I completely identify.

Through a series of fortuitous events, Reuven and Danny become an unlikely pair of best friends, though from two distinctly different expressions of Judaism.

The story tells the joys and woes of growing in friendship during a tumultuous time in both our American history as well as that of Jewish history.  The founding of the State of Israel—a particularly volatile issue for Danny’s father—looms large in the story.

Read this book.  Keep Kleenex close by.  You will not only come away with a deeper understanding of Judaism and the Second World War, you will have your heart changed and graced.  It is a triumph of literature.

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2 responses

7 03 2012
tommybrennan

Thanks for loaning me this book. It was a feast of reading. It wrecked me in a very deep way. Profound and surprisingly raw. The first chapter was so unexpected I simply couldn’t stop reading. One of the best sections of reading I have ever had the pleasure of finding.

7 03 2012
Christian Fahey

Quite welcome Tom! Who’d have thought that such a modest beginning (Brooklyn baseball game between two parochial schools) could become the profound tale it did? Amazing!

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