on July 21, 1998
I have heard this book criticized because a male author is delving in to the mind a girl growing to adulthood up. They say that Ilana Davita does not ring true as a female character. I could not disagree more. So much about Ilana rings true. Much of her I recognize in myself. I too am the child of parents of strong ideology and had to find my own way. The cruel response of both teacher and classmates as she expressed her parents views about Stalin brought tears to my eyes. I recall a similar experience in my own life. It is a beautiful story of a girl longing for a feeling of belonging and finding it in Jewish faith. I recommend this book without reservation. Chaim Potok is a wonderful author, (he also wrote The Chosen which is my all time favorite book) and I think he created a believable, precocious, hurting girl who finds faith and healing and perseveres through hardship and injustice.
Davita's Harp blends historical fiction, politics, religion and issues of immigration & identity together with the story of a young girl coming of age. The result is an agreeable and very readable novel.
Davita is surrounded by people who are unable in one way or another to negotiate compromise. The communist beliefs of her parents, the extremely divergent religious views of her extended family, her environment at school-- none of her potential role models offer her a strong basis for building her own identity. Eventually, however, Davita does begin to choose a road for her life and she does it with her own unique flavor and on her own terms. Her story is lovely, and very inspiring.
I would recommend this book highly as a gift for high school students, particularly girls. Davita makes a wonderful role model and it should be meaningful to young people struggling with issues of religion and identity-- any religion. One of the key messages of Davita's Harp is that it is possible to choose for a religion and community without sacrificing your other beliefs. It is unique in that it shows religion both as a steadying force and as an evolving imperfect system. I can certainly think back to a time in my life when it would have been very helpful to see a way forward that was more than the choice between inside and out.
Additionally, the period prior to World War II is a largely forgotten moment in time. The view on post-depression labor relations, the Spanish Civil War, and the treatment of the so-called premature antifascists makes for fascinating reading.
on November 11, 2001
A co-worker of mine, a roly-poly joy and delight of a human being, on the cusp of retirement, urged me to read this book. My first thought was, "Oh, Potok...'The Chosen,' 'The Promise' -- required reading for high schoolers, maybe a little dry and boring...." I told her I was reading a big, fat book and it was going to take me ages to complete (I wasn't fibbing; that was the truth). She said, "Take it. I guarantee you, you'll love it. Read it, whenever...return it, whenever."
Thank you, dear kind (wise) lady. This was one of my favorite books of the 1980s (and I read about 500 books a decade) -- I will never forget how immersed I was in the story, to the point where I lost absolutely all sense of time and place. As soon as I finished "Davita," I sadly returned it to her, for this book is a keeper. At the end of that workday, I RAN and bought everything Potok had written up to that point. They were all wonderful, but "Davita" will always be my favorite, with "Chosen" and "Promise" both running a close second.
I read everything Potok wrote pre-1990, and strongly urge you to read this author. But start with "Davita."
on July 16, 2004
Most critics that I've read often say that Davita's Harp is good, but not Potok's best. However, this has turned out to be my favorite of his novels, and definitely one of my favorite novels, period. It's beautifully written, with a sensitivity and bittersweet-ness that only Potok can create. Though it's definitely scholarly with a lot of dense subject matter, Potok doesn't make it over our heads. He was the kind of writer that seeks to make us understand without preaching, rather than to show us how much he knew, and the result is a lyrically written, wonderful story of the joys, sorrows, and trials of the human spirit
on January 6, 2004
If you enjoy delving into wonderfully crafted stories, Potok's "Davita's Harp" will not
leave you disappointed.
Potok touches on war, confusion, passion, community, justice, faith, family, politics,
death, grief, and life--all the essentials of an existential masterpiece! What makes the
book so enjoyable is that it is written from the perspective of a young girl who
experiences life's disappointments and joys, usually, for the first time. Potok invites
readers into Davita's life and subtly asks us to reflect on life's experiences we ourselves
have lived. The insightful reader will grab Potok's bait and give thoughtful consideration
to life's twists and turns and reexamine ideas and relationships that all to often lack
serious attention and effort. May Potok's portrayal of Davita's inquisitive life place you
in a position to reexamine yours.
on December 7, 2001
I thought I was in love with Dostoyevsky until I read this book and discovered I'm in love with Potok. This book, although slow in the beginning twists several stories and themes around the central character, Davita. Reading it is as if a million ink dots transformed into a hand which reached from the pages to grip your mind. Entertaining and moving on both surface and deep levels. I also enjoyed the historical context, including the portrayl of Guerica. Potok is a lyrical genius. This is a must read!
on June 7, 2006
This is a fabulous novel. The story is a bit long to summarize and I would refer you to the other reviews on this page. I wanted to add a brief thought or two. Davita's parents are of mixed heretage: her mother an orthodox jew from Poland and father a Mayflower decendent. Both have experienced deep personal trauma that has affected their lives and how they decide to deal with the problems of the world around them. Davita's mother survived genoside and rape in a pogrom and her father witnessed a murder during a logging strike in Washington State. Both abandon their backgrounds and look to socialism as the answer to their personal hurts and the world's injustices. Stragely, Davita as a young girl embraces her orthodox background and finds dep solice in it after her father is killed covering the Spanish revolution. She doggedly and unconventionally says Kaddish daily for her father.
Davita's faith ultimately saves her mother as the latter becomes isolated and dissolutioned with the socialism of Stalin. Davita becomes a star student at the Yesheva where she enrolls (and meets Reuben Malter the protagonist of the CHosen and The Promise). Davita seeks from orthodoxy what the men are granted and is denied equal standing both intellectually and religiously. She has blossomed so much that she outgrows the confines of the tradition she loves.
The novel ends with Davita on the margins, entering her teens and facing an important decision of what path this pios and brilliant loving child will take.
We are left wondering about Davita's future that is taken up in a later novel "Old Men at Midnight" where she appears in three stories at different times in her adult life as a foil against which three other main characters are developed. We learn later that she embrasses acadamia.
Upton Sinclair ends his famous novel "The Jungle" (written in the early 1900's) with a cry that socialism is the answer. We see in Davita's harp what Sinclair will ultimately descover for himself decades later that socialism is a dead end and barren as far as meeting basic human spiritual needs.
Potok's powerful novels and his fictional Brooklyn society are the conflicts between the old world traditions and a rapidly changing America. He is a master story teller, writes beautiful prose, writes with sufficient patience and depth that the cultural material is understandable and accessable to all who read his works. His themes are timeless and universal. One day he will be looked upon as an underappreciated great American novelist. Don't miss a single piece of his writing.
on January 9, 2005
What an amazing book. It was a little slow, and I almost didn't read it, but I stuck with it and WOW! It hits you like a ton of bricks about half way through. I found it to be a very thoughtful, critical commentary on how blind adherence to religion or political ideology can lead to intolerance and blind one to what really matters in life. One of my top reads ever, the ideas it conveys will keep you thinking about this book long after you finish it. A must for religious and non-religious people alike!
on February 6, 1999
I loved reading about this girl of my era, so different from my WASP upbringing in many ways, but universal in her need for love, protection, understanding and affirmation. Yes, many of us have been "the best girl in the class," only to be ridiculed and shamed. Potok must be a genius in understanding the interior workings of adolescent females as well as males. Five stars
on November 16, 1998
I have read all of Potok's works, but DAVITA'S HARP is definitely his best. Not, perhaps, in terms of technique (we begin to see a bit of repetition in the work) but in his ability to reach beyond his own personal story and into the world just beyond his own. A wonderful accomplishment for Potok as a writer, and a book that can be read over and over and never become stale.