I’m currently reading a book by Chaim Potok, author of my favorite novel, The Chosen. This particular book, written in 1981, The Book of Lights, is set in Korean War-era New York City near historic Riverside Church and Grant’s Tomb, Korea, and Japan.
The main protagonist, Gershon Loran, has been ordained into the rabbinate and conscripted into the service after the armistice has been signed. He is a somewhat melancholy and, at the same time, brilliant and reflective man who is particularly enamored with the study of Kabbalah–the books of Jewish mysticism. He is haunted by visions.
His roommate, Arthur Leiden–also a rabbinical student and future rabbi, is a curious figure. He is a conflicted man, often drinking too much and coming to class unprepared (and drawing upon himself the kind of ire that was standard for teachers towards lazy students a generation ago.)
Arthur is conflicted as well because his father, a physicist, was involved in the creation of the atomic bomb. Albert Einstein, Harry S Truman, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi are all colleagues of Arthur’s father and figure into the story.
The book, a predictably thoughtful story, forces the reader to examine the moral import and consequence of developing weapons of mass destruction and its consequences for those who bear the weight of such a dark legacy.
I am about half the way through this novel. Potok is a masterful writer. He understands the human psyche and Jewishness (in which he was both raised and trained). Read this and his other works.