Emilia P's Reviews > The Chosen

The Chosen by Chaim Potok
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's review
Mar 17, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: lost, real-books
Read from January 31 to April 19, 2012

This book snuck up on me. It's the story of two Jewish boys circa World War II, one the son of a Conservative professor and the other the son of an Hasidic rabbi. The first chapter is about their chance meeting -- the Hassidic kid clobbers the Conservative kid in the face with a baseball hit straight to the eye, which gives him a concussion and lodges a piece of glass in his eyeball. It took me forever to get through the first because I can't do sports writing, and I was a little afraid the whole book would be like that.

But, no, indeed, it is a treatise, study, consideration, heartfelt meditation, on what it means to live a virtuous life, guided by but often also complicated by faith. It is about the beauty and troubles of history, for the Jewish people specifically, but also just about how there is more to every story than the one you are brought up with -- Reuven sees the complexities of the Hasidim when he is invited into their world, and Danny, the rabbi's son, seeks and even gorges on secular knowledge with just a tiny bit of help from Reuven and his father. In the end, it's a story of how one's soul and one's upbringing can collide, how influences come from all sorts of places and things, and how important compassion and friendship are. So, yeah! It's cool.
But all of that is somehow told very subtly and dryly - not that much happens beyond their growing up in a world in which the face of Judaism is changing dramatically (WWII and the subsequent creation of Israel).

Beyond that, there are some things that make this book unique and enjoyable. It's explicitly and entirely about a heterosexual teenage male friendship between total nerds. It's about the serious, respectful and complicated relationships between sons and fathers. And finally, it's about the complexities of modern Jewish life. I've read that Judaism is a religion focused on this world more so than the next -- and this book is definitely about dealing with the ways that Judaism was lived and how it grappled with/engaged with politics in the post-war Era. I had never really known that ultra-Orthodox Jews were opposed to Israel's creation because it was a job that should be done by the Jewish Messiah... and never really considered how much that would conflict with the growing Jewish self-identification of American Jews who supported Jewish culture and Jews as a people, without such religiosity. Basically about an intelligent reality of Religious Politics.

Anyway, I thought this book was really great, a little dry, possibly even a vehicle for Potok's personal interests as much as a story about real people. But I liked what it was talking about, how thoughtfully and carefully it proceeded. I must say that a lot of themes were of particular interest to me as a religious and religion-reflective person, and that it might bore many of you out of your skulls. But. If you like dads, kids, bromances, the Talmud, or mid-century New York relationship stories, go ahead and try it. Hooray.

P.S. I don't get the LOST connection. Hm. I'm rusty.

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