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Zebra and Other Stories

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"In six quietly powerful stories, Potok explores varieties of inner and outer healing, both in individuals and 'Zebra' begins to regain use of his crushed hand and leg creating art assigned by an intinerant teacher; 'Isabel' finds unexpected solace in the company of her new stepsister. In the collection's haunting centerpiece, 'Nava' uses her father's experiences in war, and his connection with a Navajo healer, to fend off a frighteningly persistent drug dealer. The families represented are all middle-class or upper-middle-class, but the relationships, the feelings of loss, grief, regret, hope, and relief are universal; readers sensitive to nuances of language and situation will be totally absorbed by these profound character studies."-- Kirkus Reviews , Pointer

160 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

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About the author

Chaim Potok

68 books1,438 followers
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 note from the editor complimenting his work.

In 1949, at the age of 20, his stories were published in the literary magazine of Yeshiva University, which he also helped edit. In 1950, Potok graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English Literature.

After four years of study at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America he was ordained as a Conservative rabbi. He was appointed director of Leaders Training Fellowship, a youth organization affiliated with Conservative Judaism.

After receiving a master's degree in English literature, Potok enlisted with the U.S. Army as a chaplain. He served in South Korea from 1955 to 1957. He described his time in S. Korea as a transformative experience. Brought up to believe that the Jewish people were central to history and God's plans, he experienced a region where there were almost no Jews and no anti-Semitism, yet whose religious believers prayed with the same fervor that he saw in Orthodox synagogues at home.

Upon his return, he joined the faculty of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and became the director of a Conservative Jewish summer camp affiliated with the Conservative movement, Camp Ramah. A year later he began his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and was appointed scholar-in-residence at Temple Har Zion in Philadelphia.

In 1963, he spent a year in Israel, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Solomon Maimon and began to write a novel.

In 1964 Potok moved to Brooklyn. He became the managing editor of the magazine Conservative Judaism and joined the faculty of the Teachers’ Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary. The following year, he was appointed editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society in Philadelphia and later, chairman of the publication committee. Potok received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1970, Potok relocated to Jerusalem with his family. He returned to Philadelphia in 1977. After the publication of Old Men at Midnight, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died at his home in Merion, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2002, aged 73.

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5 stars
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132 (36%)
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31 (8%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 52 reviews
Profile Image for Breña.
468 reviews6 followers
October 5, 2019
Melancholische Kurzgeschichten, die auf den wenigen Seiten tiefe Abgründe offenbaren. Die Protagonisten sind allesamt Kinder bzw. Jugendliche, die jedoch die Unbeschwertheit nicht erleben dürfen. Immerhin gönnt Potok uns auch einen Hoffnungsschimmer.
Profile Image for Tawny.
363 reviews7 followers
March 21, 2008
Author: Chaim Potok
Title: Zebra and Other Stories
Genre: short stories
Publication Info: Random House. New York. 1998.
Recommended Age: 11 and up

Plot Summary: “Zebra,” the first of six stories included in this book, is about a young boy named Adam Martin Zebrin. People call him Zebra because of his last name and because of his love for running. One day he ran too quickly down a hill and could not stop himself. A car hit him, crushing his left leg and hand. Zebra wore a brace and sling for over a year. He became quiet and introspective, merely watching as the other kids played exuberantly at recess. Standing off to the side like this, he once spotted a one-armed man digging into the garbage cans along the street, pulling out certain objects and putting them into the plastic bag he carried. The man came and spoke with Zebra. He drew a portrait of Zebra right there and handed it to him. He announced that he would be teaching an art class at his school that summer. Zebra was intrigued by the man and attended his class. The students learned how to see differently and draw accurately. They made sculptures out of the garbage the teacher brought to class. Zebra found out that the one-armed man lost his arm during the Vietnam War. He was a helicopter pilot. Zebra then drew helicopters and made a sculpture out of his own garbage at home. His teacher presented one of Zebra’s drawings at the Vietnam Memorial for an artist friend who had been killed during the war.

Personal Notes: I am a huge fan of short stories. There is just something about being able to read a whole story in one sitting. I would definitely consider reading these stories as a class. Potok is a great storyteller, and all of these stories outline changes and grief experienced by adolescents. I strongly believe that reading these kinds of stories helps us cope with whatever things we face in our own lives.

Evaluation: These stories are a little longer than a lot of other short stories I have read. Averaging about 25 pages long, they really give insight into the protagonist’s life and emotions. I read The Chosen a long time ago, but getting this taste of Potok’s work makes me want to go back and read it again.

Other Comments: Potok’s stories cover such topics as the loss of a parent, the trials a family goes through (including keeping secrets), birth and death, and as mentioned above, the effects of an injury. Apparently, five of these stories were previously published in different magazines and newspapers. I hope that young people read them, and not just adults.
Profile Image for Anatoly.
265 reviews3 followers
November 14, 2020
The short story Zebra written by American writer Chaim Potok tells about an injured boy who met an artist who lost his hand during the Vietnam war. The main characters discovered a hidden potential within themselves over the course of the story.

The story is deductive but maybe a little bit pathetic. Each person who was presented in the story was good but some signs showed that society was not perfect. For example, the fact that a veteran had to search for something in the bin to survive. Also, using a nickname instead of a real name by the young boy and people around him doesn’t look right … at least in my opinion.

Here is the link to the text of the story:
Profile Image for Rene Ijzermans.
391 reviews5 followers
December 15, 2019
Potok en korte verhalen, dat kende ik nog niet. De zes verhalen uit deze bundel gaan ieder over een tiener die wordt geconfronteerd met iets buiten hem of haar om wat aan het denken zet. Geen verhalen vol spektakel, maar subtiel en met oog voor details in een schrijfstijl die eenvoudiger is dan ik van hem ken.
Vooral het verhaal "Zebra" over een jongen die een man ontmoet die net als hij een handicap heeft vond ik erg mooi. Ogenschijnlijk is de man een zwerver (hij raapt spullen van de grond en heeft omdefinieerbare troep in een plastic zak waarmee hij rondloopt), maar hij blijkt een kunstenaar die Zebra het nodige bij gaat brengen.
Profile Image for Mary.
394 reviews
May 22, 2022
I have read almost everything by this author, and The Chosen is one of my favorite books, but this short story collection for young adults left me shaking my head. The stories are mostly about emotionally damaged kids: due to accidents or a death of a loved one. The book was published in 1998, so the stories are a bit dated. But I found them disturbing.
Profile Image for Giorgia Imbriani.
564 reviews6 followers
June 11, 2021
Una raccolta di racconti che hanno come protagonisti i più o meno esistenziali problemi degli adolescenti, e le loro sempre pronte àncore di salvezza. Una lettura piacevole ma niente a che vedere con altri lavori di Potok.
1 review
May 21, 2019
it was a good book
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Marjolijn.
4 reviews
July 19, 2022
Anders dan zijn andere boeken. Korte verhalen die makkelijk weglezen. Als je echt een Chaim Potok boek zoekt is dit er geen één, vind ik.
Profile Image for Diana Willemsen.
351 reviews
September 26, 2022
Tijdens mijn dienst in het Joodse schooltje (museum in Leek) lees ik steeds een hoofdstukje. Verhalen voelen een beetje gedateerd.
Profile Image for Katherine.
172 reviews10 followers
June 17, 2015
Zebra and Other Stories is a collection of six short stories featuring young people in a wide variety of situations. In “Zebra” a young man named Adam befriends a wounded Vietnam veteran who becomes his art teacher in a summer program. The man reminds Adam of himself because Adam was also recently injured when a car hit him. In “B.B.”, B.B. and his family are struggling to deal with the death of his infant brother Timmy. His mother is pregnant again and is about to give birth, despite the fact that B.B.’s father did not want to have another child, lest they risk going through the pain of losing another infant. B.B. is shocked to discover that his father has decided to leave the family. In “Moon” a rebellious teen with anger management issues wants nothing more than to have his own recording studio. A special visitor to his school from Pakistan who stays in his home makes a big difference in his life and encourages him to think about other issues. In “Nava” a young girl is pursued by a teenage drug dealer. When she is threatened by the boy and his associates, she uses her knowledge of Native American folklore and wisdom to fight back and protect herself. “Isabel” is the story of a character by the same name who has recently lost her father and baby brother in a car accident. When her mother decides to remarry, she finds empathy from her new stepsister. The story has a subtle lesbian subtext. The final story, “Max,” relates the story of Emma, a young girl who is brought up to idolize her Uncle Max, who died in a helicopter crash in the Vietnam War. Although her parents seem to desire for her new baby brother, Maxie, to become a miniature version of Uncle Max, Emma surprises them by showing them that she has similar interests as her uncle, even though she is female.

Although the stories cover divergent themes, Booklist notes that Potok discusses “the trappings of youth” as well as “themes commonly associated with YA literature – alienation, grief, divorce” (Amazon.com 2004). Common to all of the stories is the focus on a young protagonist who is struggling with the environment he finds himself in and the limitations that are imposed upon him by his age. Several of the stories make mention of the Vietnam War. The death and loss of a parent or sibling is another recurrent theme. Booklist also comments that these themes are discussed with a gentle touch. Potok “simply and skillfully tells a good story and respects his audience enough to allow them to draw from it what they will” (Amazon.com 2004). One good example of this is “Isabel” a story which hints at a possible lesbian relationship between Isabel and her new stepsister, Betsy. He does not overtly state that the relationship is occurring, nor does he graphically describe interactions between the characters. Yet the reader gets the sense from reading Potok’s carefully chosen diction that the two girls are beginning to care for each other in a manner that extends beyond a platonic friendship.

Potok utilizes a sophisticated writing style that incorporates lush imagery. Plot and description meld in a harmonious blend of words that piques the reader’s interest:

“Moon waited a minute or two and then began to play an accompaniment to the bongos inside the spaces of Ashraf’s beat…and the bongos went dum dat, dum dat, dum dat in that strange rhythm, and then Moon took the drums higher in volume…his sticks beating a frenzied cadence, a rhythm of scalding outrage, and he was thumping, driving, throbbing, tearing through his instruments, pouring onto the world a solid waterfall of sound, and he felt the outrage in his arms and shoulders and heart and the sublime sensation of secret power deep in the very darkest part of his innermost soul (68-69).

This passage skillfully describes Moon’s emotional response to playing the drums and the sad fate that has befallen his friend Ashraf. By using figurative language and onomatopoeia, Potok has created a powerful emotional scene. In addition, the use of long, interconnected sentences is an appropriate way to illustrate the fast-natured, frenzied drum playing and the forcefulness of Moon’s emotions.

This short story compilation is excellent and belongs in every school and public library collection that serves young adults.
Profile Image for Emily.
748 reviews41 followers
December 27, 2022
I have only read "Zebra" so I will just be discussing this short story. "Zebra" is a bit longer than some short stories, but it's worth the extra pages. The main character is nicknamed Zebra because he loves to run. One day there is a terrible accident, and Zebra is hit by a vehicle which hurts his leg and hand. He struggles to concentrate in school because of the physical pain, and he is also dealing with a lot of sadness and depression. He meets John Wilson, a veteran of the Vietnam War, who lost his arm. Mr. Wilson becomes Zebra's art teacher and through their friendship they both start to heal from their physical and emotional scars.

I enjoy reading short stories, but sometimes they disappoint me, and I don't always get much out of them. I wonder if they need more pages to make a bigger impact. However, this story delivered. I loved the message of using art to help Zebra process his feelings and start to heal. He actually gains more use of his hand as he keeps creating 2-D and 3-D drawings and sculptures. If you are looking for a short story with bigger messages and depth, I would recommend "Zebra."
Profile Image for Michael Wing.
69 reviews2 followers
August 23, 2010
Potok is not familiar to me, but "Zebra and Other Stories" caught my eye because it was assigned the YA distinction. Having previously said that short stories might be attractive to reluctant readers, this was worth a read. Glad I did. Potok's six stories involve adolescents in crises, illness, family tragedy, fear, loss and difficult relationships. The protagonists, male and female, are often in the first person as they reveal their rationale for decisions and beliefs. Perfect. Good stories make us think and consider our moral growth. Potok does that with each tale. He likes to close with an opening, inviting the reader to create the denouement and assert a continuing meaning. This will be on the top shelf in my classroom this fall.
Profile Image for Tijl Vandersteene.
124 reviews10 followers
September 21, 2015
Dit bijzondere boekje was voor mij een verrassing van formaat. Zes verhalen in 160 pagina's. In een zuinige, heldere, maar toch precieze taal. Weinig adjectieven, weinig virtuositeit, alles nogal rechtuit en zonder franjes. Niet gekunsteld, en toch. Toch heb ik bij vijf dan de zes verhalen op het punt gestaan te wenen: vochtige ogen en een krop in de keel. Plots werd ik geraakt. Magisch noem ik dat, en meesterlijk. Toen ik deze middag op de trein -gezeten naast twee hoogbejaarde vrouwtjes- Zebra, het vijfde verhaal, aan het lezen was heb ik het boek opzij moeten leggen of ik was daar zomaar beginnen snikken. Dat zou een mooie toestand geweest zijn. Lezen dus, maar best niet in 't openbaar.
"In de gang zei Andrea tegen Zebra: 'Weet je, jij bent een erg sombere levensvorm.'"
Profile Image for Gwen.
58 reviews2 followers
December 14, 2008
I just re-read these stories. It was written as young adult short stories, but I think they really are perfect for adults. It's a great collection that is beautifully written and quick to read from cover to cover. This is a great introduction to Chaim Potok, but very different than most of his books because the stories aren't based around the Jewish experience. I would highly recommend this for everyone!
Profile Image for READ MOORE .
3 reviews
August 28, 2011
This was an excellent book that showed the power of how our mental state can determine our physical state. Zebra overcame his sorrowful outlook on life, when famous artists, John Wilson, taught him to see in a new way. The lesson is one I have had to learn time and time again; thoughts are powerful, so be careful what you give thought to! MParker 8-27-11
Profile Image for Philip Burt.
76 reviews1 follower
October 10, 2011
We can, perhaps, see a little of ourselves and our young lives in these gripping stories. While these stories are realistic on the whole, there seems to be some supernatural elements that really work to color these stories, too(e.g., the way art seems to help heal Zebra's hand.)I would recommend these stories, which highlight critical moments in each of the young protagonists' lives.
Profile Image for Bluebookworms.
119 reviews2 followers
November 6, 2020
6 brevi racconti di giovani ragazzi che si scontrano contro le avversità della vita e devono trovare il modo per salvarsi, ognuno a modo suo

Carino ma fin là. I racconti non sono male, un alcuni casi il riscatto è ci sta ma alcuni hanno veramente un finale un po' banale

Se vuoi saperne di più seguimi su instagram @blue_bookworms !!
Profile Image for Patty.
165 reviews15 followers
January 16, 2009
Chaim Potok has a beautiful way with words and is able to reveal his characters in understated ways. I preferred the stories in which his protagonist is a boy; the stories about girls rang less true for me.
Profile Image for Reid.
895 reviews60 followers
May 21, 2009
A delightful collection; it's been on my shelf for years, and I have no idea why I hadn't read it before now. Potok has a wonderful and wry sense of humor, and it is especially apropos in this book that deals mostly with early adolescents.
Profile Image for Hannah Goodman.
Author 12 books47 followers
December 29, 2009
This collection about 6 pre teens and the life changing events they go through has a promising strong start with the first three stories from the male perspective but when Potak tries to write from a girl’s perspective he falls way short.
1,102 reviews1 follower
August 29, 2010
Have loved Chaim Potok for many years, with Asher Lev and The Chosen. Fine, fine short stories which capture much of Jewish life, as well as just plain life. GREAT read for kids who read in shorter bits. Once thought I saw a zebra in Harpswell, but no go.
Profile Image for Jordan Taylor.
331 reviews125 followers
November 6, 2019
This is a collection of six short stories by Chaim Potok (author of "The Chosen") that all focus on death or loss, with children as the main characters. I thought that the opening story, "Zebra," was the best.
Powerful writing by a brilliant author.
Profile Image for Nancy.
2,406 reviews52 followers
August 17, 2013
short stories filed in kids at Long Beach library. More YA to me. Second story really good about father who leaves the family, but then changes his mind. The son is the only one who knows of his dad's original intent.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 52 reviews

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