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The Chosen (1987)

The Chosen (1987)

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4.02 of 5 Votes: 2
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0449213447 (ISBN13: 9780449213445)

About book The Chosen (1987)

I love how Chaim Potok is able to create a story about so many different things. There are dozens of topics within his books to discuss, enjoy and ponder, but he manages to twist and turn his story, so at its end, you get the Rubik's cube sides all neatly back to the same color.Like My Name Is Asher Lev, which I loved, Potok writes about a Jewish boy torn between his own genius and his orthodox father's expectations. Danny Saunders, a genius boy with a photographic memory, is destined to take his father's place as the community tzaddik, or spiritual leader of Hasidic Jews. To teach his son compassion, he parents him with silence, like his father did before him, and the only time father and son talk is when they discuss the Talmud, a Jewish book consisting of different rabbi's discussions of Jewish laws and ethics.But, the father-son relationship is only one side of the thematically complicated but narratively simple story. There is much food for thought about friendship ("You think it is easy to be a friend? If you are truly his friend, you will learn otherwise") which Danny's father, Reb Saunders, tells the narrator of the story, Reuven Malter, and certainly proves to be true. There is a fantastic development about the Zionist movement, and the opposition within the Jewish community against Israel to be created after the second World War. There is an interesting, albeit outdated, flirtation with psychology and Freudism. And much, much more...especially if someone could simply live inside my head and answer back whenever I had a "and what do you think about this?" moment.I find that one of Potok's greatest achievements is his ability to narrowly write a story that happens in a close, sheltered environment about a specific religious belief, and have it easily apply to many different beliefs and situations. I found myself thinking to myself most of today about how this story, about a community of ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jews, has a lot in common with my current community. This place, where I live, has the broadest spectrum of believers/non-believers, practicing/non-practicing, ultra conservative/ultra liberal members of my own religion. The characters in the story are living and functioning in an almost self-contained environment. Their schools are Jewish. Their sports teams are Jewish. Their stores, hospitals, friends and neighborhoods are Jewish. The conflict is not "us vs. them" but "old us vs. new or changing us" and "holier us vs. secular us". They don't see the world around them.Ding, ding, ding!!!Like poor Reb Saunders had to discover by isolating his son from his best friend, and what David Saunders knew, but didn't have the courage to proclaim, good exists in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. It exists down the street, where perhaps the homes aren't matching brown stucco craftsman style. It exists at the other school. It exists in literature and areas of study and even at the church with the different shaped spire. There is goodness everywhere.This belief of mine is fundamentally different from Reb Saunders, who explained that each person is born with a tiny spark of goodness which is enveloped in a shell of ugly and evil. It is the responsibility of the parent, the church, the community to protect that spark, encourage it, feed it so that it can grow and expand to eventually fill the shell and push out the evil.While there is certainly plenty of evil surrounding us all, I think it only gets more bold and has more room to grow when we huddle around our goodness. It, goodness, is bigger than we allow it to be. We need to link goodness to goodness and charge down the street, all ablaze together.Kind of a tangent, but I love books that make me go off down one. I can't say this book is a favorite, because it didn't make me feel the way a book needs to, but I'm certainly glad I've read it and happily encourage anyone who hasn't to do so.

This was required reading for my sophomore-year honors English class; upon reading chapter one, I prepared myself for great disappointment, firstly because the chapter was entirely about baseball (which although I’ve tried to enjoy I can’t seem to get in to, I’m sorry to say), and secondly because it was so descriptive. It was hard to imagine me being interested in something so...flowery (in some time I’ll post a review on another required reading, the oh-so-detailed Great Expectations, which hasn’t improved for me even through chapter thirty-six).Coming into the later chapters of The Chosen, I began to enjoy it a lot more. Not only was the storyline interesting and the characters likable, but its deeper meaning was insightful and reminded me of the events happening in the U. S. concerning Jews and the Holocaust—about Mr. Malter rallying for a Jewish state, about Reb Saunders opposing this movement, and most prominently sticking out in my mind, the quote from the Hasidic boy who told Reuven that "Hitler destroyed the Jewish body, but you destroy the Jewish soul" (paraphrased). It gave me a certain perspective that makes me regret not having read the book sooner.This is one of those books that I love, but can’t really explain why. With Dune it’s easy: great story, great characters, it’s got everything I’ve ever asked for. With Harry Potter, it’s got great people, great creatures, great symbolism. With The Hobbit it gives you a fun story and lovable characters. But, like The Chosen, books like The Invisible Man, 1984, and Fahrenheit 451 all leave me mind-boggled. I love those books. They make me think. They make me wonder. It’s like the brief, fleeting moment in Algebra when you realize that you’ve got it! and it’s all clicking into place: there are no words to describe how you feel when you realize, Hey, I understand what the author means by this, I see it’s deeper meaning—all just before the feeling goes and you’re left paralyzed by the knowledge that you’ve understood what it’s all about, even if you don’t understand it now quite as completely as in that moment, but instead of the movement of clicking into place it’s like you’ve understood it all along. With these kinds of books, there’s a supernatural element to them that entirely surpasses other novels, and your literary understanding is taken to new levels and into new lights.These are the kinds of books I want to be reading for the rest of my life.The Chosen is one of those books...and as much as I’m disliking Dickens at the moment, I’m glad I had that bit of required reading.

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Dear Mr. Potek,You're dead. But since you believe in an afterlife, I feel okay writing to you anyway.Despite being a finalist for the National Book Award, written about lovingly by critics, lauded across the country and even transferred to the stage, your novel The Chosen is absolute garbage. It is a disgusting attempt to justify child abuse with good intentions and you should be deeply ashamed of yourself for it.In your book, a father wrecks irreperable harm upon his intellectually gifted son, because he feels God cursed him with a brain, but without a soul, and that he must systematically abuse and neglect him so that pain will help him develop a soul so that the son can take the father's place as Rabbi and leader of his people. And in your emotional climax, he says he does so because he didn't know what else to do. It's his personal failure as a parent that the child must suffer for.Not only is this the same sort of reasoning that people use for beating children--I didn't know what else to do, it wouldn't stop crying, it wouldn't behave, etc...--but it assumes that that there is no other way for a child to experience pain other than being inflicted by a parent, which anyone who ever experienced childhood can say is false. Childhood is nearly all pain from myriad sources. Parents don't need to aid the process.Moreover, the father does all of this, not in the interests of his child, but in his own selfish interests trying to install his life, his values on his child, and to force him into a path that he chose for him despite knowing full well that the child doesn't want it.And to make it even sicker, the father's principle joy in the book is that his son finds a friend to talk to as an outlet which allows the father to continue his systemic abuse of the child.This is a disgusting book, something I have NEVER said before about any book.Perhaps it's because you made the abused child understand and appreciate the abuse at the end of the novel, and say it would raise it's child in a similar fashion, or perhaps it's because I recently received a letter from my father explaining that the years and years of abuse he inflicted on me, which included beatings, neglect, disinterest and countless bizarre rituals intended to teach me some sort of obscure lesson about mysticism were inspired by reading your book. By your fucked up book.Do you understand Mr. Potek? Your book justified child abuse as the right way to raise a child to teach it compassion, and put that out there in the world. And others followed. And that's your legacy. That's sick. You're sick. And I'm glad you're dead. And I hope it hurt when you died.

I read this one on a business trip in the NYC area, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's the kind of book I immediately wanted to read again once I finished, but I know I'll have another chance to read another copy ... another day :)I'm fascinated by the writing in this book. It's compassionate, literate, educated, and also ... contains one of the best bits of sports writing I've ever read The second one started to come in shoulder-high, and before it was two thirds of the way to the plate, I was already standing on second base. My glove was going up as the bat cracked against the ball, and I saw the ball move in a straight line directly over Schwartzie's head, high over his head, moving so fast he hadn't even had time to regain his balance from the pitch before it went past him. I saw Dov Shlomowitz heading toward me and Danny Saunders racing to first and I heard the yeshiva team shouting and Sidney Goldberg screaming, and I jumped, pushing myself upward off the ground with all the strength I had in my legs and stretching my glove hand till I thought it would pull out of my shoulder. The ball hit the pocket of my glove with an impact that numbed my hand and went through me like an electric shock, and I felt the force pull me backward and throw me off balance, and I came down hard on my left hip and elbow.I'm still trying to figure out why we don't know Danny's sister's name. I'm not sure if we ever get it, but it's certainly not mentioned the first time she enters the picture in Chapter 12. Interesting.One of my favorite quotes in this book is from Reuven's father, when asked about his friend Jack Rose: "Honest differences of opinion should never be permitted to destroy a friendship."I finished this book with a lot of questions. What was Potok's life circumstance when he wrote this? Is it autobiographical? Who is Danny? What about Billy and Mr. Savo? Where are the rest of his books (I want to read them)?

The central theme of The Chosen is the possible difference between our inherited religious tradition vs. the genuine will of God for our lives; and its central moral question is, how far (if at all) do we have an obligation to let the former define who we can become? Both boys in the book have to grapple with this; it's most obvious for Danny, "chosen" from infancy to succeed his father as a rabbi of the super-orthodox Hasidim, with their almost medieval traditions (a role he's not at all cut out for), but Reuven also faces it in his yeshiva, when he realizes that his own study of the Old Testament leads at times to different conclusions than those of his rabbinic tradition. Himself Jewish, Potok doesn't demonize tradition; he delivers a serious, nuanced and balanced look at its role. Though they're presented here in a Jewish context, the religious issues he deals with here are profoundly important for Christians (or persons of any faith) as well.Like all great novels, this one has other dimensions as well. (The meaning of the title is also multi-faceted: Danny is "the chosen," but Reuven is also "chosen" across sectarian lines to become his friend; and at a deeper level, Israel itself was chosen by God as the vehicle for His revelation to mankind.)For Gentile Christians like myself, another rewarding feature of this book is the window it provides into Jewish culture and thought, especially the American urban Jewish culture that had so great an influence on the shaping of our country in the decades after the story takes place. Prior to reading this book, I really knew nothing at all about Hasidic Judaism, its origins or particular beliefs; so all of the historical information Potok seamlessly provides was fascinating to me.

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