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on May 26, 2001
This novel is suited for just about anybody regardless of religion or race. Those who are Jewish will relate a little easier but those of other faiths can apply the various relationships that occur in this book to their own lives.
The story is primarilly about two boys, Reuven and Danny who meet one day in a softball game. Danny is a Hassidic Jew and Reuven is merely Orthodox. Danny's initial impression is one of disdain towards Reuven as he is unable to relate to people who are not on his religious level at first impression. An accident on the ball field brings them together and eventually they begin a friendship. It grows deeper when both their fathers are drawn into each others worlds. It is indeed very interesting how each father raises his son so diffrently.
The backdrops of the hospital, World War II, the surrender of the Nazis, The Zionist Movement, and the eventual statehood of Israel effect the two worlds of Danny and Reuven. There is a period of time when the Zionist movement causes Danny and Reuven to put their friendship on hold. However, in time they return to nurture each other.
This is not a quick read by any means as anyone with a soul with be enamored by the details of this fine novel. Practically each page offers descriptive information about critical steps that Danny and Reuven take in their critical years to discovering themselves. Even both fathers learn something in the end. This is a story which will have you thinking and analyzing many many aspects of the lives of Danny and Reuven and I sincerely hope more teenagers and college students read this book and develop a greater acceptance for peers who may be a little different from themselves.
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on March 17, 2001
This is a story of friendship, a friendship that is formed between two Jewish boys (of differenct sects) under the most unusual circumstances. One boy, Danny, destined to be a tzaddik, a rabbi to the Hasidic community, is raised by his rabbi father who communicates to Danny only during study of the Torah. The other boy, Reuven, from a less strict Jewish sect, becomes more than a friend, actually more like a buffer or a liason between Danny and his father. Their friendship grows, is torn apart and then mended, leading to the emotional final chapter, as their true destinies begin to take shape.
Chaim Potok has become one of my favorite authors. This is the third book of his that I have read this year, and, as a Christian, his novels give me great insight into modern day Judaism. His books are not only informative, but brilliant, heartbreaking, and compassionate. Everyone with any kind of religious bent at all, or even the non-religious, should read his work. I'll guarantee that you will be moved.
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on July 9, 2000
I am an African American attorney who read this book as part of collecting readings for a summer trip with Operation Understanding to share with Black and Jewish high school students. Operation Understanding takes 8 Black and 8 Jewish students between their Junior and Senior years of high school on a trip across the South and Northeast, stopping at places of significance to both, in an effort to restore the alliance that existed between the groups especially during the Civil Rights Movement. This was the perfect book to gain a deeper understanding of American Jewry for the trip.
The book explores the relationship between two deeply religious boys from profoundly different traditions within that religion who are accidentally -- divinely, really -- brought together. The development of both boys' spirituality starts with lessons from their fathers and deepens with lessons from each other.
The Chosen takes place in World War II America. I was already familiar with many of the classic accounts of Holocaust survivors (Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, and others.) This book richly filled a gap in that understanding by presenting a fully formed first person account, though ficitious, of the wrenching experience of American Jews who helplessly learned of the horror from here.
The book also offers thorough background information (which will have to be supplemented by further reading) about Jewish history, both cultural and religious. The author patiently explains terms presumably unfamiliar to the general reader and then trusts the reader to turn back if, during the course of reading the novel, the terms are momentarily forgotten. Those reviewers who said that Potok left the reader unaided were simply not paying close attention.
Beyond its fascinating historical and religious perspectives, this book's elegant craftsmanship and universal themes will move anyone, regardless of background. Potok's gift for writing regional American dialogue is similar to that of Twain and Steinbeck. Thematically, especially moving to me was the way in which the fathers' mostly wordless love and support for their sons manifested itself in the friends' often wordless love and support for each other. It is significant in this regard that the fathers never meet in the novel, even as they separately express a conflicted admiration for each other when each speaks to one or both boys. When both boys choose career paths their fathers had not expected, Potok allows the reader to share all four characters' realization that it is fulfilling the expectations of God, the Father that ultimately matters most.
I will share an excerpt of this extraordinary book with the young people on our trip. And when we reach New York, my hometown, I'm giving my copy to my Dad.
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on February 7, 2000
This book explores the friendship that develops between two Jewish boys in New York City during the Second World War. I loved it for it's beautiful story and how it weaves together the very different lives of the boys, their relationships with their fathers, and the eventual interactions of all four of the characters. Potok includes numerous desriptions of Jewish tradition and customs, which is vital to the story as well as fascinating information. I found myself seeking to learn more about the Jewish faith when I finished this book. The plot is complex in how it balances the characters and their lives, all while teaching the reader about the various sects of Judaism. At the same time, it is told in beautiful language that is very easy to understand and appreciate. The entire book is muted and wonderfully understated, and it feels like you are listening to an old man recount his youth in a soft yet spirited voice. Potok's book "The Promise" follows up the story of "The Chosen" nicely, but the first book in the sequence is by far the best. At times tragic, jubilant, and thoughtful, this is by far one of the best books I have ever read, if not THE best. I feel like I'm a better person for it. Everyone should have a chance to read this book.
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on October 3, 2003
This is one of those books I should already have read but hadn't. There are so many of those! I am so glad I finally picked this up. It's short and straight-forward, as books used to be, yet complex and beyond meaningful, as books at their best are.
It isn't hard reading, by any means, but it reveals a strong, strong lesson played out through the friendship of two young boys, their complex relationship to one another and within their small world, their fathers' relationship to each another (and their worlds and thought processes), and how they are viewed--and view--their school and community. All of this in such a tiny book - while nowadays books are 800 pages of nada (and I'm just in my 30's).
It's not a children's book and, while simple, it's far from simplistic. The "lesson" or "moral" or journey of the two boys is life-altering for them, and really, in its way, was for me too - because of how haunting it is, how direct its story, how the plot is the thing. We're handed the message, easily, on a platter - and that is all that's needed.
The levels of complexity are within these peoples' worlds, not wordplay or fancy writing. It's the/their real world - a world full of those who don't fit in where they "should," those trying to find their own ways, being judged by others, and pressured by their own.
Some of the themes are universal; the world in which these two live isn't. Their world is specific and small, and has to be for this story; yet, for anyone interested in this particular world--the multifacets of Judaism and its sects at some of the highest, most historic or profound, levels--the book is a history lesson. It isn't a boring history lesson but one told through the eyes of two boys finding their ways through their respective cultures and into the world. Do people [does a person] want to be the part of the world laid out for them and what is involved in leaving it? This question applies to everyone.
It's mainly their relationship to each other that reveals the information. Two boys talk and teach one another; people love and resent; one boy is uniquely pressured, the other more free. This is a book about Jewish history, about friendship, about personal choice, and the road to independent thought.
The thing that makes a character a brilliant talmudic scholar is the same character trait that makes him an independent thinker who questions the path set out for him and his duty to fulfill it. His duty and his feelings are at odds; he is a young boy and his struggles are moral, intellectual, historic, and human. His conversations with his friend are profound and eye opening, both for the characters and the reader.
Conversation and human interaction dominate a book that is predominantly a journey of thought. It's lovely. This approach leads us to feel not only for the characters but for their relationships - the boys' to one another and each to his and the other's father, as well as the bonds formed with "minor" characters.
From the first chapter, I was hooked. It begins with an edge-of-your-seat baseball game. I couldn't be less interested in baseball, but there was something going on here, a nail biter, a bring-us-in chapter that brought us into a world so complicated yet, again, written and shown to us so easily. Piecemeal, in a way - from the game to the hospital, other characters in the ward, then to their outside-the-hospital world that is the rest of the book.
It's a must read, truly. It is a must-read for Jews (I am Jewish) but also universal in theme, and an insight into particular elements of Judaism. I'd recommend it to absolutely anyone.
It's taken me a long time to write the review since finishing the book, as I didn't even know where to start. But, The Chosen is with me in the same way as the day I put it down, and as I hope it will always be. I hope not to forget. I hope no one does.
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VINE VOICEon November 18, 2003
When I started reading THE CHOSEN, I was rather disappointed. It read like a run-of-the-mill pop fiction work for at least 90 pages. Reuven Malter, 15, plays baseball for his yeshiva team in Brooklyn; their opponents are a Hasidic team whose star is Danny Saunders, the 15 year old son of the religious guru or the tzaddik of a Hasidic community. The teams clash, Reuven winds up in the hospital thanks to stopping a vicious line drive with his glasses. Danny, the hitter, comes to visit him and apologizes. They become friends. The year is 1944---D-Day and the war hover in the background. There are a couple other stock characters. At that point, the tenor of the novel changes to a schematic balancing of the two sets of fathers and sons. Reuven's father teaches in the yeshiva where his son studies, but he is more open to the outside world. Danny's father is a patriarch steeped in tradition, bearing the cares of all his people on his shoulders, revered by them to extremes. Danny, with a photographic memory and keen mind, has long been tipped to succeed his father, hence he is "the chosen" one. Reuven, the less religious of the two, decides to become a rabbi. Danny wants to go into psychology, but will his father permit it ? Can their friendship hold out before the narrow, strict vision of life of Danny's father ? Will Danny's fate be decided for him or will the American ideal of individual choice prevail ?
THE CHOSEN is a coming of age novel with a difference, it traces the onset of maturity, the making of life choices in an environment unfamiliar to most people in the world. Mainly, though, the novel compares and contrasts differing ideas on Jewish life and the creation of Israel. There are also earnest discourses on psychology and Freud, the Talmud and logic. Readers can learn a lot about Jewish tradition and customs, including, by induction, the importance of women in Orthodox Jewish life (there are perhaps ten lines about women in the whole book, showing how they take care of men). Though I did learn a lot about Hasidic thought and practice, I did not admire this novel in terms of literary power. Both Bernard Malamud and Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote to a much higher standard on similar topics. I felt continually as though Potok was using the text to educate me. I don't object to such sincere and gentle lecturing, but it seldom produces great literature. I think that your take on this novel will depend on your age. The younger you are, the fresher it will appear.
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on August 8, 2001
I read "The Chosen" in one sitting...something I haven't done in a long, long time. The book is a coming of age story about two Jewish teenagers, Reuven and Danny, who become best friends as a result of an accident during an interscholastic softball game. Danny is raised as a Hasidic Jew, while Reuven is raised as an Orthodox - a less strict sect of Judaism. Danny's father expects him to become a Rabbi but he wants to be a psychologist, and Reuven's father, who is much more liberal than Danny's father, would like him to be a mathematician, and he want to be a rabbi. The book explores the relationship between the two boys and their fathers. It is a story of contrasts, but at the same time is depicts how alike they all really are.
While the story is interesting and educational, I found the character's development stifled by Potok's inability to delve into their lives outside of a religious context. The story takes them through high school and college but we never get to know anything more about them then their relationships with their fathers, and the impact of their religious differences. But I guess that's the point of the book. I can't fault Potok for these limitations because he is an excellent writer and tells a great story. However, I wanted a bit more meat to the story. There are many wonderful themes in "The Chosen" and I highly recommend it to anyone in the mood for a clean-cut, "G" rated read.
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on November 15, 1999
I had to read the Chosen for my 8th Grade English class in1998. It is without a doubt the best book I have ever written. I readit in under 2 days, and since then have read almost all his books dealing with adolescent Jews. This book shows what it means to be Jewish, that Judaism is as much about personal relationships with God as it is with others, with the community. It shows that friendship conquers all, even schisms in religion. It was a big insight into the sometimes mysterious worlds of Hasidism and Orthodoxy, and is useful in showing differences (I was not aware of any until I read this book). I am a secular jew and identified strongly with both characters.
For the students who say it was boring and that only Jews could understand it, I think they should have done some research before starting it. For instance, you shouldn't read this book until you know what the Torah is, at least. A glossary at the back would have helped comprehension, but would have taken away from the story as well. By not proviving definitions every five pages, Chaim Potok let the story envelop readers, so that they felt that they knew everything Danny and Reuven knew. If the students didn't understand something, they should have looked it up, like the students in my class should have. I cannot believe that anyone can say this was boring, as I think it is one of the best looks into stricter American Judaism. Such books are necessary for the reform Jews of today who regard Orthodox Jews and Hasidism as fanatics and extremists. His books "The Promise", "My name is Asher Lev", and "The Gift of Asher Lev" are good for this purpose as well.
The character of Reb Saunders is one of the most original ones I have ever encountered. He makes me understand my late grandfather, a "Born-again Jew" better.
This book has impacted my life and I will always be grateful to Chaim Potok for writing it. He is a genius, and I hope he lives to write many more masterpieces of litterature.
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on August 2, 1999
The main thing I want to add to the reviews here is that there really is no custom to raise a child "in silence" as Reb Saunders does with his son in the book. This was a literary device used by Potok for the sake of his story. In real life, Hasidic fathers and sons interact with each other outside of study classes, too.
For those of you who find the use of Yiddish and Hebrew words a bit off-putting, or the details of a strange (to you) culture boring, I want to say, please keep reading. Learning about somebody else's culture is always a brain-stretcher, but in this case, it is well worth it. The seemingly "extraneous" details in the beginnig of the book all come together in the end. And you will be very much enriched by the experience.
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on May 3, 2001
I was in my mother's room one day, kind of bored, when she handed me the chosen. She told me it was a very beautiful story and made her cry and that I should read it. I was 16. I rolled my eyes. I am not a person who cries and I certainly didn't feel like reading some book that my mother thought was beautiful. But I was bored and had nothing to do and so I started reading it. The intersting thing about the book it that it starts very simply. To make a long story short I really liked the book and it had a pretty strong impact on me. Its the story of a boy living in New York. The captivating thing is that this boy is very different to us, he has a religion and culture that is strange to me as I have never been exposed to it in my life (Orthodox Judaism). He is very different from most people arround him, and in the book he shares with us his deepest feelings about this. The book had a very strong impact on me as it allowed me a glimpse of a different world, viewed from the eyes of a boy so different from me, but in many ways so simmilar. His loneliness, his difference echoed my own.
I strongly reccomend reading this book as it gave me a perspective I didn't have before, it was a beautiful and captivating story and gave me a window into a new world.
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