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.
After a dramatic baseball game in which his left eye is injured, Reuven Malter looks at life in a whole new way. The accident, caused by a fly ball hit in anger by Danny Saunders, brings about the beginning of a deep friendship between the two boys during the critical years as they transition to manhood.
While both boys have many similarities—they play baseball, are very intelligent, come from Jewish families, and have strong interests in Jewish law and the fate of the Jewish people—their lives are very different. Reuven's father is an Orthodox, scholarly Jew; Danny's father is a rabbi of the stricter hasidic sect. Reuven's relationship with his father is intimate; Danny's seems almost estranged. Reuven is free to choose his own career; Danny appears to be trapped in following his father's footsteps. Their years of adolecence are filled with coming to terms with their futures.
The book is set during the late 1940s—the closing years of WWII up to the establishment of Israel—and this setting serves as both a backdrop and to move the plot along. Potok does an amazing job with details, and brings his characters to life with plenty of depth, allowing the reader to thoroughly sympathize and interact with their motivations, joys and fears.
While I expected the book to be hard to read, it really wasn't. There isn't much action, but the point of the book is the relationships between both fathers and sons. A beautiful and moving story.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
Review by Eli Evans
Formerly home educated and now father of five, Eli loves discovering amazing books, new and old. The owner and manager of Exodus since 1998, his focus is on offering thoughtful and well-written books that inspire the imagination and promote creativity and diligence while living for God. Read more of his reviews here
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