Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Book Review: The Chosen

Star Rating: 5/5

The Chosen

By Chaim Potok

Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders were part of two different worlds until a baseball accident brought them together. Though they have lived their whole lives only a few blocks away, they’d never met and possibly never would have if it wasn’t for the accident. Reuven is an Orthodox Jew whose father teaches at his school, helps him study Talmud using the scientific method, and writes scholarly articles. Danny is a Hasidic Jew whose father is raising him in silence to become the next tzaddik of his synagogue like his father and his grandfather before him. Unlike Reuven who could do anything he wants to do, Danny feels trapped—he can’t even talk to his father about his dream of being a psychologist. Instead he sneaks off to the library to study Freud, Darwin, Hemingway, and whatever else he can get his hands on. Now with a friend—one who isn’t a Hasid—he doesn’t have to keep everything a secret anymore. Danny can tell Reuven; but Danny isn’t the only one who has chosen Reuven, Danny’s father has, too.

The Chosen is an intricate and beautifully written coming-of-age novel. Far from simple or flat, Danny, Reuven, and the boys’ fathers are dynamic and full of life. Their relationships ebb and flow mirroring real life and showing the effects and interaction of our choices, the choices of others, and local and world events. Rather than being islands unto themselves or driven utterly by forces and events outside of their control, the characters show how their lives are an interplay of choice—theirs and others. Chaim Potok shows through his characters how previous choices create circumstances. Our choices and circumstances along with the choices of others limit our control and choices later. Potok also shows how choices and circumstances do not always result in the intended consequence, but that this unanticipated result is not necessarily undesirable. This interplay that Potok creates allows the reader to better understand the characters as well as prompt the reader consider the relationship between choice and circumstance in his own life.  

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