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Book Report: The Chosen

Every time I read The Chosen it seems like a different book. The first time, it was a book about two boys and their friendship. The second, probably, it was about the study of Talmud and its place is in the world. The third, it was a book about two boys and their fathers. After many years, I went back to it and discovered it was a book about two fathers and their sons.

This time through, though, it was a book about Zionism, that colossal mistake, and its psychological relationship to post-Holocaust American Judaism. Reuven’s father, always such a gentle soul, supports Irgun terrorists even as he vaguely disapproves of their methods; Reb Saunders sees Zionism, correctly, as a threat to his retreat into the shtetls. The two between them create Israel, violent, schizophrenic, bitter, isolated, isolating, backward-looking, xenophobic, and somehow beautiful still. They are neither of them quite sane in the late forties. Neither was my grandfather, who was their age, and who came from a destroyed world, as they did. The madness may or may not have been noble. It is certainly understandable. It’s tragic, as well. Their children suffer.

Can you imagine Reuven and Danny, now seventy-five, reacting to Yasser Arafat’s death? Would Danny have given up on psychology as having answers to the Master’s questions? Would Reuven still be in a pulpit somewhere in Florida? Or in Tel Aviv? Would they call each other? Would they think of their fathers, of that year when they were forbidden each other’s company, and for this?

In the other book I was reading last week, Harold Nicolson meets Chaim Weizmann in 1948 and writes “A sad thing to achieve the aim of one’s life and find it a thing of horror.” I blame Hitler.

Thank you,


Did you ever read the sequel, The Promise? It's been years since I've read either of them, and though I could access The Chosen as a story of two boys and their friendship (and learning not to hate people who seem different from you), I think I was too young as a pre-teen to grasp whatever was going on in the second book.

The Promise, which I haven't read in quite some time, seemed to have in common with a couple of other books by Mr. Potok that I've tried a morbid fascination with psychosis. That is, where in The Chosen, the center of the book is Reuven's relationship with Danny, who is certainly unusual and I'd even say abnormal, in The Promise the center is his relationship with Michael, who is a young psychopath.
There is more to it, of course, and there's a bigger problem that it simply isn't that good a book. The fascinating characters from C disappear in the background, and are replaced by others less interesting. The only new character that's really memorable is Rav Kalman, who replaces the much more interesting Rabbi Saunders. The plot isn't as good, either.

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