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Old Men at Midnight

3.55  ·  Rating Details ·  947 Ratings  ·  86 Reviews
From the celebrated author of The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev, a trilogy of related novellas about a woman whose life touches three very different men—stories that encompass some of the profoundest themes of the twentieth century.

Ilana Davita Dinn is the listener to whom three men relate their lives.

As a young girl, she offers English lessons to a teenage survivor of
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 30th 2002 by Ballantine Books (first published 2001)
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Aug 29, 2013 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Years ago I loaned this book to one of my sons and just got it back the other day. I see that I added it to GoodReads back in March 2008 and gave it 4 stars. Since this was just days after I joined GoodReads, I assume I first read this book before 2008. That I'd read it at all was not surprising to me since it is my book, and I consider it unlikely that I would have loaned it before I read it. What is surprising is that while reading it this time, I remembered nothing about it. Nothing. Since I' ...more
Daniel Beasley
Mar 28, 2010 Daniel Beasley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: interested in Judaica or 20th Century History
Loved this book!
I thoroughly enjoyed the first two novellas then made the mistake of reading reviews here disappointed with the thrid.
I enjoyed each of the novellas in its own right but the third most of all. It engaged me the most and I almost read it in one sitting.
To explain, some friends have caused me to become intrigued with Judaica and dredging up neglected memories was one of the overall themes of the book. Add to that the third novella's plot element (not a spoiler) of a dying spouse
Oct 22, 2007 Antonie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
I'm going to sound pretentious here, but it's deceptively easy to read. It's broken into three stories, all involving the same character in one way or another, but all revolving around men who are coming to the end of some huge moment of their lives, coming to terms with the things they saw or did. You fly through the stories, and it's only after you're done that you realize how complex they are. It's one of those books I would probably read again immediately after finishing, just to make sure I ...more
Tal MacNeil
Nov 10, 2012 Tal MacNeil rated it liked it
Shelves: jewish-lit
Three novellas, both of which centre around the character Davita (who previously appeared in Davita's Harp, take the strange tactic of having Davita herself do almost nothing with the plots. Instead her role is to bring out the stories of three male characters who have suffered deeply and must remember their buried pasts. This is fine as far as it goes, but Potok has never been strong writing women anyway--Davita was always the exception, so having her wander passively through the story helping ...more
Lauren Albert
Nov 25, 2009 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I would probably give the last of the three stories a 3 although it gets stronger at the end. In each, a man (or a boy) tells Davita Dinn their stories. She is 18 in the first, a graduate student in the second, and a middle age writer in the third. She is changed by the stories she hears although it is not directly mentioned. I thought the strongest story was The War Doctor which is a searing autobiographical narrative by a Soviet agent who conducted torture sessions during interrogations. You s ...more
Judy Cloe
Mar 03, 2016 Judy Cloe rated it really liked it
I thought I had read all of Chaim Potok's works of fiction, but recently discovered this one that was published in 2001. I am so glad I did because I enjoyed it as much as all the others. It is made up of 3 novellas. Each one is a Jewish man's story told to the same woman at various stages of her life. The main themes are the two world wars and how it affected each of the men. The stories are quite compelling and very readable. If you liked Potok's earlier novels, you will like this one as well.
Jun 30, 2013 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Potok strikes again with another literary gift. I remain utterly enchanted and challenged by his stories.
Apr 14, 2016 Jim rated it liked it
At the end of Old Men at Midnight—at least in the copy I read—the publishers include a short conversation with Daniel Walden during which he makes the following observation about Potok’s style: “Some critics have written that they don’t admire your so-called simple style. You have contended that your writing is a result of much rewriting and much revision and is deliberate” to which Potok adds:
The style is simplicity for the sake of complexity. Whoever feels that it is a “simple style” has to lo
WF Boey
Oct 22, 2016 WF Boey rated it liked it
Shelves: historical, ww2, read-2016
I found The Chosen and The Promise very powerful novels, but feel slightly let down by this. I don't think having Davita narrate the first story worked very well. I don't think female narrators is Potok's strength. I feel a lot of empathy for the boy in the first story, but don't feel much for the other men, and don't find the way Davita draws their stories out very convincing. Given the date of publication and the date of the author's death, this is probably an unfinished book that could have d ...more
Sep 13, 2016 Jasonlylescampbell rated it really liked it
Three stories of people struggling with history and life and loss. Davida (of Davida's Harp) was in all three stories, but more of an onlooker. There is something about his pacing, even in short stories. It is so patient. There is an interview at the end of my copy of the book and he talks in it about the novel and what the novel is capable of:

One is the handling of character, people. No other form can handle people in significant depth over long periods of time. No other form can move back and
Leah G
Jul 20, 2012 Leah G rated it it was ok
Ilana Davita Dinn is a character, but actually she is a literary device to tie together three completely separate stories so that they can pretend to be one book. She only plays a significant role in the first story.
The first story was pretty good, about Ilana Davita teaching English to a young boy who survived the Holocaust. It shows the complete lack of understanding of American Jews in the immediate Post-war years towards what these survivors went through. Ilana Davita knows he is the only su
Zuzana Schalek
Aug 29, 2016 Zuzana Schalek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Moje prvé stretnutie s Chaimom Potokom. Ani jedna poviedka nestratí zbytočne ani minútu čitateľovho času. Túto knihu má zmysel prečítať. Pre mňa najsilnejší bol príbeh číslo 1. Druhý bol desivo reálny. Tretí, s prvkami tajomna, dodal silnú bodku za knihou. Hoci niektorých by viac potešila čiarka. Kniha však končí. Je to proste tak. A bodka.

-- A chlapec sa nedal utíšiť. Opýtal som sa ho prečo plače a on odpovedal, že si spomenul na príbeh o Baránkovi, ktorý mu kedysi povedal jeho strýko Jakob.
Dec 30, 2009 Mark rated it really liked it
This apparently was Potok's last book. It really is three novellas or long short stories stitched together. The common theme: recapturing memories, in particular of Jews who were victimized in the Second World War.

The tales are held together by an enigmatic woman, whom we first see as a high school student who is tutoring a teen-age survivor of the concentration camps in English. A talented artist, the young man slowly yields up a story of his small village in Poland and the rabbi who enlisted t
Jul 27, 2011 Shannon rated it did not like it
I wouldn't call it Potok's best. One thing I do enjoy is the continuation of character lines throughout his different novels; Davita is back! I was so charmed by this intuitive, inquisitive child in Davita's Harp (which nodded to a pre-Chosen Reuven Malter!), that it was a treat to see her as a high school grad prepping for her studies at Columbia University.

The Ark Builder is fascinating; it celebrates the tradition of the Covenant, of preserving the story of the past for the young, the future
Maggie Anton
Feb 13, 2014 Maggie Anton rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Although Davita from 'Davita's Harp' is in this book she is not actually the focus of the book. It comprises three stories told her by three men. Potok waxes more literary in this book than he does in the others that I've read. I am not a fan of literary fiction, so it was less likeable to me for that reason. However for people who love literary fiction, this would be a good choice. It got two stars from me because of personal taste, not from the writing. The writing was exceptional, as is usual ...more
Nov 18, 2011 Michael rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
This consisted of three novellas. Potok is an excellent writer to study if you are interested in literature as an entertaining and powerful means of culture war. Not that I agree with his worldview, but he fights for his faith with his pen in a way that is instructive. He has a lot of similarities to Marilynne Robinson in that regard and I wonder how much he has influenced her directly.

The second story, The War Doctor, was the most interesting. The first story I'd give 3 stars, the second 4 star
Feb 04, 2015 Heather rated it liked it
I have been a fan of Potok's work since my junior year in high school, when my American Lit teacher assigned us The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev. Potok's prose is understated and beautiful, and his stories are full of depth and struggle that make them very human. This new collection of novellas is no exception. One character unifies the stories, but each story's narrator is a different character. In this collection, one learns more about Russia's involvement in World War II, and what happened ...more
Dec 01, 2010 Dree rated it liked it
This is the first Potok book I have ever read, though I have been meaning to read one for...decades?! I found this on my library's popular fiction shelf and went for it.

I enjoyed this book, found it fascinating, and feel I learned quite a lot--especially from the first two stories.

This book was heading to a solid 4-star rating for me. But I found the last story to be just confusing. Why does he see this woman as middle-aged (as she is) through windows, but sees her as younger and healthier when
Aug 03, 2008 Stephani rated it did not like it
The book was separated into three sections. The first was a story of a Jewish boy who was the sole survivor of his village during the Holocaust. The second was a story of a Jewish KGB officer. The third story was of an elderly Jewish professor who was attempting to write his memoirs. I found the first section fascinating. The second section was an interesting insight into the KGB. However, this book receives a single star because of the third section. Within a few pages it became so suggestive t ...more
Oct 18, 2011 Mays rated it did not like it
Shelves: american
I went in to this book with great expectations; I hadn't read Potok before, but I just thought this book would be good. Sadly, it was not. The first short story was OK, the others were just plain boring. As I was reading this, I found myself always hoping that something good or exciting would come. It didn't.

His descriptions of the environment are sometimes well-written and almost drags you into this book, but they are a rare view in this book. Every 40 pages or so, I did find something good th
Mar 20, 2010 Andi rated it liked it
A depressing and sometimes disturbing study of memories from the past and their ability to haunt the future. A collection of three different stories based around Ilana Davita Dinn. Each one probes into aspects of WW I, and WW II from a Jewish perspective.

I would've given this book more stars, except I struggled with the third story. If you are fan of Potok's, don't expect this to be The Chosen.

Apr 28, 2008 Lora rated it it was ok
Because it's Potok's last book, I returned for a second reading. The theme I draw from these stories is that memory shifts shape over time and has the power to shape us as much as we try to mold and form it. I wanted to like it more than I actually did, so it pains me not to rave over this book. It's no less well-executed than any of his previous works, but since it's a trilogy of novellas rather than a full novel, it lacks the emotional drive of his others.
Dec 28, 2012 Melodee rated it really liked it
Shelves: misc
Old Men at Midnight follows the three separate threads of the lives of different men (1 boy) and the effect that a certain woman has on them and their interpretations of their individual histories. As usual, there is a certain amount of spillover between the doings of the fictional characters and details and circumstances from Potok's own life or of those he has known. It is a compelling tale, and it is told with Potok's characteristic attention to detail and evocation of emotions.
Apr 19, 2015 Beth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I thought this was an interesting approach to telling three stories from the Jewish Holocaust. I was especially impacted by the first two stories. The third story was distracting due to the story-tellers obsession with I.D.Chandal, and the story seemed less real somehow. On the whole, I was left thinking that there are probably many untold stories, just waiting for someone to want to listen to them. A good reminder.
Mar 25, 2011 Susannah rated it it was ok
There were things about this book that I liked. The characters were interesting. I enjoy learning about Jewish culture, so that aspect was satisfying. But overall, I was just plain baffled. The end especially left me confused, feeling like I'd missed something huge. And there were some tedious moments when I thought about not finishing. Overall, not a book I'd recommend. Read The Chosen by the same author, much better.
May 04, 2014 Donna rated it liked it
Love Potok's books. Somehow I missed reading this one written in 2001, a year before he died.
It comprises 3 novellas. Three different men relate their life story to Ilana Davita Dinn. The first one is about a Jewish teenager who survived Hitler's death camps. The second is about a Soviet KGB interrogator and the third is about a distinguished professor of military history, trying to write his memoirs.
All three stories personalize the horror of war.
Maria Beltrami
Tre racconti di sopravvivenza, tutti ambientati in America e tutti con le radici nell'Europa dell'Olocausto.
Che si tratti di superare gli orrori del campo di concentramento, quelli della Russia di Stalin o, semplicemente, quelli delle due guerre mondiali, i sopravvissuti si interrogano sul loro essere ebrei, e sul perché l'essere ebrei abbia scatenato l'odio e la violenza.
Racconti interessanti e ben scritti, ma che non riescono ad entrare in fondo all'anima.
Aug 09, 2008 Lisa rated it really liked it
This is a book of 3 stories by Chaim Potok, linked together by Davita Dinn, a woman who loves stories. At three different times in her life she meets Jewish men who have experienced the horrors of war and she helps them bring their stories to light. This is not a cheerfu book, but it is moving and in some ways hopeful because the storytellers are survivors.
Jun 11, 2013 Ryan rated it liked it
Chaim Potok has to be one of my favorite authors but this was one story I didn't fall in love with. While it was meant to be a joint nature of four different stories I held out hope that the 'resolution of Davita' would somehow be fantastic. I found the stories too loosely drawn together and thus couldn't enjoy it as much as the others.
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Herman Harold Potok, or Chaim Tzvi, was born in Buffalo, New York, to Polish immigrants. He received an Orthodox Jewish education. After reading Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited as a teenager, he decided to become a writer. He started writing fiction at the age of 16. At age 17 he made his first submission to the magazine The Atlantic Monthly. Although it wasn't published, he received a n ...more
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