“You can listen to silence, Reuven. I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has quality and a dimension all it’s own.” – The Chosen, page 110
After winning the Edward Leus Wallant Award, being on The New York Times best-seller list for more than six months and lots of praising words, the Chosen is still a timeless and extraordinary book. It gives a palpable view into the Jewish culture and a lot of their traditions. But I was rather inquisitive about what’s so special about this book. Is it Chaim Potok’s fervent writing style? The morals of the story? Or is it special because it’s written in a straightforward prose?
Set in the in the mid-Twentieth Century in Williamsburg, the book tells the story of two fifteen year old boys; math genius and Modern Orthodox Jew Reuven Malter, also the narrator in the book, and Daniel ‘Danny’ Saunders, an Hasidic boy with a photographic memory. After Reuven ends up in the hospital because of Danny during a baseball game, they become inseperable best friends, despite their different Jewish upbringing. In fact, Reuven’s father is one of the Zionism leaders, while Danny’s father is anti-Zionism. Because of these two contradictions they are not allowed to see each other anymore. Nevertheless as the tale goes on, they notice that even these two contradictions are no obstacles fort his friendship.
“Two people who are true friends are like two bodies with one soul” – The Chosen, page 74
Born in New York in 1929, Chaim Potok made clear that his first novel can be seen as an autobiography. In fact, the theme, the tension between the two worlds, Potok knew from his own life, as he is raised in the Orthodox Jewish religion. He attended the Yeshiva University and graduated in English literature. But other than that he was also ordained a Conservative rabbi and taught at several Jewish universities.
This fervent novel has it’s best sides on almost every level. It’s not only educational, but it also has lots of morals. One of them is that you can communicate with silence. Danny’s father, a tzaddik, raised his son in silence, because ‘the silence forces Danny to mature’.
“He taught me with silence. He taught me to look into myself, to find my own strength.” – The Chosen, page 275
The Chosen also gives us a glimp of the Freudian theory, without making it tedious. Danny needs to take his father’s place in the future, he has no choice; it’s an inherited position. But he spends his afternoons in the library, reading books about psychoanalysis and Freud’s theories.
‘You mean you wouldn’t become a rabbi if you had a choice?’ – ‘I don’t think so.’ ‘What would you be?’ – ‘Probably a psychologist.’ – The Chosen, page 73
After the Second World War, in which there has been much antipathy for the Jews, this book is a warm acquisition to emphasize the positive aspects of the Jewish culture. By simply describing a friendship and the college years of the two protagonists , Potok gives us all those positive effects of the Jewish culture. His writing style is very meticulous, but that’s something I enjoyed. While reading the book, you can identify yourself with the person and it almost feels like as if it’s you who needs to make all the choices in the tale.
The Chosen is definitely a book that will stay in your mind, years after reading it. It shows you that things like religious upbringing doesn’t need to interfere in a friendship. But at the end it all comes to the same thing; the tension between the secular and the religion.
“Fascinating way to get a glimpse of American Jewish history in the guise of fiction. ”
– Julide Boyraz