This book will make you cry. Reuven Malther and Danny Saunders are two brilliant Jewish boys growing up in 1940s Brooklyn in radically different situations. Reuven's father is a Zionist who trusts political and military action to bring stability to Israel, while Danny's father is an Hasidic rebbe, as strict as any in his sect and more than some. After a baseball game that lands Reuven in the hospital the two become friends, though their relationship is troubled.
Neither boy's father is supportive of the friendship. But whereas Reuven's father at least supports his son's desire to study mathematics and become a rabbi, Danny's father believes his son (who is to succeed him as rabbi of their community) should only study Torah, despite his son's desire to study psychology and other subjects outside traditional Hasidic bounds.
While the novel focuses on the relationship of Reuven and Danny, it also concerns the relationship of Danny and his father, as deeply-rooted tradition is confronted with present reality. This is a common theme for Potok—the adaptation of younger generations to the changing world without abandoning the traditions that are necessary for stability. He doesn't argue for one side over the other, but accepts the overlap between both positions and carefully examines each. Danny and Reb Saunders are both sympathetic characters, neither caricatured or a soapbox for pontification.
But this isn't just a novel about ideas. It's a deeply human work about spiritual wounds and how the healing is often more painful than the original hurt. Each character is emotionally weak, and their interactions are realistic—attempting to hide their weakness behind a facade of strength, they often injure one another, intentionally and accidentally. At the same time, The Chosen isn't pessimistic or angsty. The heroic ending perfectly concludes this brilliant and beautiful work of art.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.