Since junior high, I’ve harbored a fascination with Jewish history and the Holocaust. I begged my mother to let me see Schindler’s List in the theater (a choice my 11-year old self deeply regretted about 20 minutes in). I remember reading through my school library’s collection of World War II memoirs before moving on to the public library’s tomes, crying most of the way. And I gave serious thought to stories about my grandmother and what it must have been like to come of age in war-torn Belgium.
It somewhat surprises me that I’ve avoided reading Chaim Potok’s The Chosen until now.
I picked up an audio recording of the book a couple weeks ago at the library. An impulse choice, I steeled myself for what I thought was going to be a tough read made even more difficult by the audio component. (Am I the only one who finds it easier to read rather than watch or hear traumatic stories?) Turns out, I had no idea what the book was actually about.
Published in the late 60s, The Chosen weaves a beautiful story set in 1940s Brooklyn of two teenage boys–Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders. The two meet during a competitive baseball game between their respective Yeshivas (Jewish high schools) and eventually become friends despite their religious differences. (Reuven hails from a Modern Orthodox Jewish family and his dad is a Talmudic scholar, while Danny is the son of a famous rebbe, or spiritual leader of ultra conservative Hasidic persuasion.)
Now, until reading this book, my knowledge of the particular customs of Orthodox Jewish teaching and law came from decades-ago reading, a single chapter from my high school “world religions” class, and that awful early 90s movie, “A Strange Among Us” starring Melanie Griffith. The Chosen gives a detailed account of religious customs and education that seem so foreign to me, despite my decade of protestant church schooling, but intriguing nonetheless. The story walks through the boys’ high school and college years, showing how they become unlikely kindred spirits and face challenges in relation to their fathers.
What I loved about the book: The relatively slow paced story shows how friendships develop in the most unlikely places and how relationships can survive even the most difficult trials. I enjoyed learning about Jewish history and customs set within the context of America’s entry into World War II. And I especially liked how much soul and complexity Potok infused into the four main characters–Reuven, Danny, and their respective fathers.
Bottom line: Engaging, but not enthralling story. I could see people potentially struggling with the religious and historical details as they feature so prominently in the plot, but ultimately, it’s worth the time.
Other posts you might enjoy:
The Witch’s Daughter: Because who doesn’t love a time traveling witch?
How not to go broke with an e-reader, aka why I heart the public library
Flying solo at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Conquering fears. Thank you sparkly vampires.
If I should die tomorrow
Applying “The Power of Habit”