Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Author Spotlight - Chaim Potok

In book club a few years back I was introduced to an author that opened up to me a previously unknown and fascinating world.  The book was called:

The Chosen was published in 1967 and is a story of two Jewish boys and the friendship they form, though they are from two different worlds. The setting is 1940's Brooklyn, New York.  The story is told from the point of view of Rueven(Robert or Bobby) Malter who is a Modern Orthodox Jew and the turmoil that comes when he forms a deep friendship with a Hasidic Jew named Daniel(Danny) Saunders.  The story takes place over a period of three years, beginning in 1944 when the protagonists are fifteen years old. It is set against the backdrop of the historical events of the time: the end of World War II, the death of President Roosevelt, the revelation of the Holocaust in Europe, and the struggle for the creation of the state of Israel.
Rueven is the son of a writer and scholar. He is intelligent, popular and has a head for mathematics.  His father wants him to be a mathematician when he grows up.
Danny is brilliant and has a photograhic memory.  He is fascinated by psychology, but feels trapped by his Hasidic traditions.  He especially feels trapped by the fact that he will have to succeed his father as the next Rabbi.  - Wikipedia

This book was so interesting to me. The friendship between the boys is beautiful and poignant.   Learning about the Jewish culture and the differences between the Jewish sects and how they view each other was fascinating.  Learning of the history and the politics of the time was also very interesting.
The Chosen has a sequel called The Promise.  I'm pretty sure I read it, but it must not have had the same impact because I don't remember the details of it now.

After The Chosen I moved on to another great book called:
My Name is Asher Lev was published in 1972 and also takes place in 1940's Brooklyn, New York.  Asher Lev is the narrator and main protagonist and he has incredible artistic ability. He is a Ladover Hasidic Jew and the book follows his growth from a four-year-old boy until shortly after his college graduation.  During Asher's childhood, his artistic gift brings him into conflict with the members of his devoutly religious sect, who value things primarily as they relate to their faith and who consider art not related to Judaism to be at best a waste of time and possibly a sacrilege. It brings him into particularly strong conflict with his father, a man who has devoted his life to serving their leader, the Rebbe, by traveling around the world bringing the teachings and practice of their sect to other Jews, and who is by nature incapable of understanding or appreciating art.  -wikipedia

Also a very fascinating book.  The turmoil that his art brings to the sect and the conflict it causes between his mother and father is very provocative.  Asher's gift won't be denied and he constantly pushes against the barriers of his religious traditions and his fathers authority until he finally paints a scene that is so heinous in the minds of his sect that he is forced to leave.  The conflict is riveting.
Their is a sequel to this book called The Gift of Asher Lev and it is also very good.

The final book from Potoks fictional work I will review is called:
Davita's Harp was published in 1985 and is the only one of Potok's novels to feature a female protagonist. In New York City of the 1930s, Ilana Davita Chandal is the child of a mixed marriage: a Polish Jewish immigrant mother and a Christian father from an old and wealthy New England family. Both of her parents are haunted by bitter and violent memories from their youths, and both have, in consequence, turned their backs on their pasts in order to become active members of the Communist Party. Ilana's early childhood is fraught with mystery and struggle as the neighbors eye the Chandal family with suspicion. - wikipedia

Fascinating book on the way religion can shape our lives for good or ill. Everything is written from the point of view of a little girl(Davita) and her struggle to understand her parents and her world is very intriguing. Also the disillusionment and insight that comes when something we believed to be true is exposed as a fallacy is deftly explored. The political events that shape their lives(WWII and Stalin signing a nonaggression pact with Hitler) is also very interesting.

Potok may have planned a sequel to Davita's Harp, but he never wrote it. Davita reappears in the collection of stories called Old Men at Midnight. - wikipedia

Chaim Potok was born February 17, 1929 and died on July 23, 2002.  He was an American Jewish author and Rabbi.  You can find a more in depth look at his life and writing career here

1 comment:

Diana Paz said...

Hi, I found your blog from Tales of Whimsy and I really like your layout. I also couldn't help but notice you have a lot of my favorite books in your little bookshelf thingy on the right :) I linked you with an award on my blog, keep up the good work and all the best! :)