Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

A classic story of two fathers and two sons and the pressures on all of them to pursue the religion they share in the way that is best suited to each. And as the boys grow into young men, they discover in the other a lost spiritual brother, and a link to an unexplored world that neither had ever considered before. In effect, they exchange places, and find the peace that neither will ever retreat from again....

My take: 3 stars
A book about two boys becoming young men, their fathers and how they relate to them, and growing up under the same, but vastly different, religion.

This book is full of symbolism, from the baseball game which begins the book, to the eye issues experienced by both young men, to the emerging of a new nation, and hence, two new young men.

However, maybe a little too much symbolism. It is heavy-laden and prime for themes, studies and analyses. On the surface, it is an intricate story of interwoven lives and faiths. In discussion, it becomes The Mariana Trench. My college-age son reports to me that, regardless of the assignment in Literature classes, he always uses this book for his theme.

I think the most important role of this book, written in 1967, is not the relationships presented, but the religions. In a time when Judaism was not widely experienced or understood in America, very little was pervasively known about Orthodoxy versus Hasidism. Potok describes each in detail and from the inside out. History is revealed, and the ideologies of the two sects are described, as well as lived out by the characters, making the understanding of them almost palatable.

The birth of the nation of Israel is overshadowed by the personal stories, but acts all the same as a climax to the novel as it sets the stage for an exciting and dangerous future for Jewry worldwide.

I think less should be spoken of about the symbolism of the book and more about the trailblazer that Potok becomes in bringing two sides of a very foreign and ancient religion to the American masses. I learned more about the history, beliefs and ideals of Judaism from this book than ever before.

Highly recommended.

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