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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Writer's Life 4/6 - Chosen

Way back in the late '60's I often spotted Chaim Potok's The Chosen on racks in card shops. Interested in the mystery that was orthodox Judaism, I was tempted to buy it but never bit. Recently, a large 1996 paperback edition was among a donation to the floating book shop. I just finished it. Set in Brooklyn, it is fascinating and compelling, universal in theme. It is told from the point of view of a teenager, a secular observant Jew who befriends an orthodox boy his age who is to be his father's successor as leader of a small sect, a position the family has held for generations. Reuven is blessed with an unabashedly loving dad, a teacher, who provides wise counsel such as: "No one knows he is fortunate until he becomes unfortunate" and "People are not always what they seem to be." Danny's father, who talks to his son only during discussions of the Talmud, believes: "A man is born into this world with only a spark of goodness in him. The spark is God, it is the soul: the rest is ugliness and evil, a shell..." He believes it is his responsibility to carry the troubles of his flock. The narrative begins before the D-Day invasion and includes the effects of the news of the Holocaust on the community, and the rancor that arises when it becomes clear a secular Jewish state will be born. The Orthodox call the leaders of Israel "Jewish Goyim" and believe the Jewish state must be built only by the Messiah. Both boys are exemplary students. The work they put into their schooling is staggering and may make the reader feel inadequate. I certainly did. There are two especially riveting confrontations -- when Reuven participates in a service among the Orthodox and is questioned by the rabbi, and a private Talmud discussion between the boys and the rabbi, wherein Reuven is challenged. The novel was published in 1967, therefore there is no self-consciousness about the decidedly masculine world or the close friendship of two males. Sex is not mentioned, despite the boys being at an age where some of us thought of little else. The prose is not polished. It's from the perspective of someone with a gift for mathematics, not writing. My only quibble is that there is nothing about the economics of the sect. Perhaps it is addressed in the sequel, The Promise. There was an oddity -- I don't recall the word yarmulke being used once; the narrator refers to it as "skull cap." The Chosen was adapted to the screen in 1981, starring Robby Benson and Barry Miller as the boys, and Rod Steiger and Maximillian Shell as the dads. I've added it to my list at Netflix. The novel has endured. More than 50 years after its publication, the mass market paperback version is ranked 35,000th+ in sales at Amazon, where at least eleven million books are listed. 460 users have rated it, forging to a consensus of 4.3 of five. I can't argue with that. Potok passed away in 2002. He was not Brooklyn born. He moved here as an adult in 1964. There are 19 works, including plays and non-fiction, that have his name under the title. He was an ordained rabbi.

My thanks to the gentleman who donated a romance novel, the Michael Moore DVD of Fahreinheit 9/11 (2004), and two books in Russian, of which the latter three sold. Thanks also to Herbie, who donated a Wendy Corsi Staub thriller, and to the gentleman who purchased Vince Flynn's The Last Man.
Vic's Short Works:
Vic's 5th Novel:'s 4th novel:
Vic's 3rd Novel:
Vic's Short Story on Kindle:
Vic's Short Story Collection:
Vic's 2nd Novel: Kindle:
Vic's 1st Novel:

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