Chaim Potok – The Chosen

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Chaim Potok – The Chosen

With dramatic force, with a simplicity that seizes the heart, The Chosen illumines-for us, for now-the eternal, powerful bonds of love and pain that join father and son, and the ways in which these bonds are, and must be, broken if the boy is to become a man.

The novel opens in the 1940's, in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Two boys who have grown up within a few blocks of each other, but in two entirely different worlds, meet for the first time in a bizarre and explosive encounter-a baseball game between two Jewish parochial schools that turns into a holy war.

The assailant is Danny Saunders-moody, brilliant, magnetic-who is driven to violence by his pent-up torment, who feels imprisoned by the tradition that destines him to succeed his awesome father in an unbroken line of great Hasidic rabbis, while his own restless intelligence is beginning to reach out into forbidden areas of secular knowledge.

The astonished victim of Danny's rage is Reuven Malther, the gentle son of a gentle scholar-one of the merely Orthodox Jews whom the Hasids regard as little better than infidels.

From the moment of their first furious meeting, the lives of Danny and Reuven become more and more intertwined. In a hospital room their hatred turns toward friendship. In his synagogue, before the assembled congregation, the formidable Rabbi Saunders makes deliberated mistakes in Talmudic discourse to test his son and his son's new friend. Through strange evenings at Danny's house it becomes increasingly apparent that it is only through Reuven that Danny's father can speak his heart to his own son and spiritual heir. And it is through the intensifying friendship between the two boys that the visions their fathers embody-the mystic and the rationalist-are brought into confrontation, and the mystery of Danny's cruelly austere upbringing “in silence” is gradually unraveled.

In scene after wonderfully compelling scene-in sun-splashed rooms of modest homes, in dark schoolboy battles that echo the passions of the distant war-life is created. As the novel moves toward its climax of revelation, all is experienced, all is felt: the love of fathers and sons, the communions and quarrels of friendship, the true religionist's love of God, the scholar's love of knowledge, the tumults and abrasions by which the human heart is made human-and how, despite the tensions between youth and age, a moral heritage is passed on from one generation to another.

 

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