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The Book of Lights

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  2,291 ratings  ·  147 reviews
Gershon Loran, a quiet rabinical student, is troubled by the dark reality around him. He sees hope in the study of Kabbalah, the Jewish book of mysticism and visions, truth and light. But to Gershon's friend, Arthur, light means something else, the Atom bomb, his father helped create. Both men seek different a refuge in a foreign place, hoping for the same thing.... ...more
Paperback, 370 pages
Published September 10th 1997 by Ballantine Books (first published 1981)
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Average rating 3.88  · 
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 ·  2,291 ratings  ·  147 reviews

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Mysticism Demystified

Anarchism is a visionary politics
Mysticism is the anarchism of religion
Mystics don't rely on structure

- William Everson

Mystics, as William Everson suggests in his poem, are anarchists. This does not mean that they throw bombs, at least any more frequently than other people. But it does mean that they have little regard for dogmatic religion or hierarchical pronouncements. They are also entirely ordinary and lack any notably heroic qualities, which makes them particularly un
Oct 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful book, one of Potok's best as far as I'm concerned, and I love them all. At first the subject seems to be the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This would be a great novel even if it were only a meditation on those events, because it manages to bring in so many viewpoints, thanks to one of the main characters whose father was involved in developing the bomb and whose mother had something to do with a city that was rejected as a target. It also manages to bring in ...more
Jan Rice
Jun 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is the story of a young man who was too young to fight in World War II but came of age in time to get caught up in the Korean War.

Actually, the Korean War ended in '53, but the troops were still there. Policing the demilitarized zone? I'm not quite clear, but there they were.

The description of Gershon Loran is quaint, in that the fact of his unsuspected talent is heralded by visions, mystical experiences, and mood issues. Helpfully, I had just read a Kierkegaard write-up in The New Yor
Jill Holmes
May 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Chaim Potok may well write the best books I've ever read. He has the capacity of creating a world and filling it with detail but also of probing deeply into the human heart. His characters feel alive. Their thoughts are profound, moving, changing, and growing. Their hearts are huge, empathetic, yet aware of their shortcomings. Religion and politics form firm foundations in their lives but do not disrupt their personal and emotional growth. One comes away with the feeling that any other character ...more
Mar 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I re-read Potok’s Book of Lights. I picked it up because Sunday I am preaching on light and I thought it would help me. The Kabballa is a major charcter, and is only one illusion of light. It is a difficult book. Much of the story centers around Arthur Leiden’s struggle because his father is one of the Jews who made the A-bomb. Much takes place in Korea. I couldn’t help but think about Charlie's distress at having worked at Oak Ridge during that time. One paragraph kept calling me back in which ...more
Jan 04, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, fiction, korea, jewish, japan
Gershon Loran and Arther Leiden are rabbinical students and roommates. Each wrestles with his own demons along with his studies. For Gershon, it is the abandonment issues by family. For Arther, it is his relationship with his father who was part of the team that developed the atomic bomb. A declaration is made that all rabbinical students must serve in the US military for two years following graduation. This is set in the years of and just after the Korean War. Gershon finds himself posted to K ...more
Sep 06, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Imagine what life would be like if your parent helped to invent the atomic bomb.

Anything Potok writes is sure to be breathtaking, but it took a good 300 pages for me to get into this one. Gershon is so emotionally unavailable that I had a hard time liking him. He wanders thru life with no passion or purpose. He simply goes thru the motions of living.

I liked the way Gershon encounters new people once he gets to Korea. While Gabriel Rosen, a fellow Jew, appalls him, his Mormon assistant gives him
Melanie Griffin
May 13, 2016 rated it liked it
This is a very heavy, intense book, different in many ways from the other Potoks I've read. A dark cloud of what can only be described as hopelessness and doom hangs over the whole book, which is understandable because it's about darkness of the human soul and atomic bombs and builds towards a visit to Hiroshima. He uses very little plot in The Book of Lights, relying instead on inner struggle and psychological studies. The effect is quite dreamlike.

Two Jewish rabbinical students become chaplain
May 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Potok never ceases to amaze me. When I finish one of his books I'm always left speechless, with a ridiculous grin on my face. This one is certainly one of his more insightful and provocative- there were moments where his rhetoric tended toward broader, perhaps overly-romanticized statements-- but I don't care because I love him, and he can't do any wrong in my eyes. My favorite quote:

[Truth said]: "Why do you shield your eyes behind your hands? Is my darkness too keen, too bright?...There is so
Christy Sawyer
Oct 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I haven't wept over the ending of a book in a long time. Today I cried as I finished reading The Book of Lights. I ask myself why I haven't read this one before and can't answer myself. I have read and re-read Asher Lev and the Chosen many times; I've read so many Potoks that I am infused by them. Book of Lights is slightly auto-biographical and conveys to me Potok's almost didactical urgency to commit his memories of the Orient to the written word. His terse prose relentlessly pulls me through ...more
DJ Dycus
Jan 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: jewish, fiction, mysticism
Have you ever been reading an author that you hold in high esteem--and you're pretty sure that you've already read his best stuff--and then he blows your mind? THAT was my pleasant experience with this novel.

I've read both Asher Levs, The Chosen, and The Promise. In terms of Potok I was pretty confident that his best work lay behind me. I also felt as if I knew what to expect from his novels. Book of Lights, however, showed me a completely different side of this literary master. In this novel Po
Oct 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I began reading Potok as a teen, beginning The Chosen. It was like a fascinating peek into a world I had never known existed. I read this book earlier and didn't like it as much. But, I picked it up again as an adult and knowing more about Los Alamos and the history of the bombs and the people who grow up with their parents connected to the making of them provided me with a different level of connection.

I feel this book is one of his very best, different from The Chosen, and his Asher Lev's, and
Apr 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Over the years I have read several novels by Chaim Potok. I don't think I would have enjoyed this one 20 years ago - it is slow in some places and I imagine many readers would find it too slow. I found it beautifully written, exquisitely painful at times, exquisitely joyful at others. Interweaving themes based on Judaism, the study of Kabbalah, Korean War, WW II, family, Japan, the atomic bomb, penance and retribution and restitution, and family, Potok follows the lives and relationships of 2 se ...more
I read the Book of Lights when I was a 20 year old college student. It was the absolute right book for that moment in my life and that moment in time.
May 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: jbc, religion, fiction
It had been a long time since I read a Chaim Potok book. I recently read In The Beginning, which followed along for me the same path as most of his other books. A story about an Orthodox family set in a certain period dealing with life, Antisemitism and the challenges of the times.

The Book of Lights is a much different book set eight years after the the end of WW II. It gives the feeling of a lost generation. One of the protagonists in the story feels great guilt over the dropping of the atomic
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I was struck with his patience in writing. His patience lets you enter deeply into the story. I think some would describe his books as slow, but I don't find that accurate. He is willing to let many, many little moments build toward powerful insights into life.

This book has another Jewish seminary student, Gershon Loren, but this one studies Kabbalah. His roommate, Arthur, and later friend is the son of one of the physicists who worked on the atomic bomb with Einstein and others. He stands and
Jul 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read several books by this author and I have to say that the style was very different but still effective. There are a lot of tonal shifts that reflect Gershon's drifting thoughts. It's a much more experimental style.

The book provided insight into how the wars affected young Americans at home and then in the service. Gershon's friend is guilt-ridden by his family's involvement in developing the atomic bomb. He is consumed by his guilt, driven to obsession with Japan and the Japanese people
In all my Jewish exploration this is my first Chaim Potok book. A housemate lent it to me and I am excited about the juxtoposition of Kabbala and Nuclear doomsday and its not even sci-fi! Thanks Cold War.

The book was clear and straight forward but dragged. The guilt of the Nuclear bombing of Japan was salient but at times seemed melodramatic and the use of light as a symbol of divinity, through Kabbala, and death, through nuclear explosion, seemed forced.

The most valuable elements were the des
Nov 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is my favourite Potok book so fa. I liked it much better than The Chosen, My Name Is Asher Lev, and The Promise,more than Wanderings, and even than Davita's Harp. ;I became immersed in the story, cared about the major the characters including the Kabbalah, wondered about others, accessible mysticism (it even made sections of The Zohar understandable!), history, fascinating debates and ambiguity. I kept finding quotes that I want to remember, but soon realized that I'd have to underline line ...more
Mar 21, 2008 rated it liked it
This is my fourth Potok and he remains a favorite, to be sure. This book didn't disappoint, but unlike the other novels I've read, I probably won't read it again. If I could, I'd actually give it 3.5 stars.

This book deals with war--but (again) unlike the other books I've read and reported on here, it doesn't mix it with religion as a paradox like the Lev books did with art and Davita's Harp did with politics. Instead we get a book about the ethics of Atomic war from the perspective of those who
Jun 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Like many Potok novels, the philosophical debate between the Talmud and Kabbalah underlines the action. However, in this case Gershon, our hero, has decided to follow the path of the Kabbalah "light". What I really loved about this book was the evolution of the protagonist: seeing Gershon transform from a guilty, sad, powerless young man to a leader and source of strength to those around him.

As the book moves into Korea and then Japan, we get to glimpse the Far East in the 1950's. I've never rea
Nov 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
What I wrote rigth after I read it: This book seems dark, perhaps darker than any of his others. It's about physics and kabbalah, so it's science and mystecism adn the world torn apart. He carried me along and made me ache and rejoice and ache again. ...more
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoy Chaim Potok's books. While I didn't love this book as much as I loved some of his other books, this book painted a picture of what it was like to be an ordinary rabbi thrust into military service, right after the Korean War. As with his other books, Potok described male friendship in (what I can only assume to be) a way for a lady like me to understand. It felt very real. I also read that Potok himself was a Chaplain in Korea, so this is probably a similar experience to his own. I ...more
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mostly a character study of two young men/rabbis, each looking for direction in life. I like Potok's writing and found that it engaged me in their lives. It is also a story of their friendship over the years.

Jan 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes when you run out of things to read, you can go back through all the books you really like and pick up the other books the authors wrote. I did that with Chiam Potok’s books and was delighted with The Book of Lights.
The story is an interweaving of two men and the way that greatness touches on both of their lives. On one student the greatness exists as an external source, he is surrounded by it. He is handsome, wealthy, intelligent, confident, a lightweight Jew; he carries the DNA and fu
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book, as per the norm, shows why Chaim Potok is a master of his craft. He threads his prose into such incredible tapestries of sight and sound and feeling. His characters deal with religious issues that on the one hand are so specific to the Jewish faith that it gives you an intimate feel for their faith, while on the other hand dealing with religious issues so broad that all who read his books, regardless of faith, can connect and understand and feel with the characters.

Potok also deals w
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: boekenkast
Ah Potok, so beautiful. Amazing how he manages to capture the feeling, the whole being of such a time in history - he really conjures it up for you with words. Lovely, perfectly Potok.
Elizabeth Jennings
While The Chosen is much more widely known than this book, I found that The Book of Lights has stayed with me more closely through the years and is the one I claim as a guiding force. For me, it is a book that transcends the Jewish perspective and presents a meditative/contemplative experience that people from multiple faiths can identify with. In the years since I've read the book, I've found it interesting to compare it to works from other traditions such as The Cloud of Unknowing, a Christian ...more
Don (The Book Guy)
For me this has been one of the more thought provoking books I’ve read recently. Potok chronicles the life of Gershon from his days as a student studying Talmud and Kaballah, to his experiences as a Jewish chaplain in Korea to his brief return home before moving on to spend time with a former teacher in Jerusalem. The book takes you into the world of Jewish scholarship and especially the mystical tradition based on the study of Kaballah. You also see how a Jewish friend the son of a man who deve ...more
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Jewish Book Club: 2020/5 Final Conclusions for Chaim Potok's The Book of Lights 5 9 Jun 15, 2020 03:17PM  
Jewish Book Club: 2020/5 Early Thoughts on Chaim Potok's The Book of Lights 20 15 May 26, 2020 01:53PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Missing cover 2 13 Dec 01, 2014 11:54AM  
Does Gershon live with the Asperger Syndrome? 1 9 Aug 07, 2011 09:36AM  
Best Potok 3 14 Oct 15, 2008 08:56AM  

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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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