"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Chosen

by Chaim Potok

An old, worn copy of this book sat on my mother's bookshelves all my young life.  Somehow it always got passed by, first because I was probably to young for it, and then because the cover wasn't "exciting" enough, and looked a little "heavy".  But I finally got around to it on my list and now am sorry I waited so long.

The story begins with a baseball game between two Jewish schools.  What starts as a somewhat casual game turns into a rivalry, and then outright war.  It hooks you into that game so well that you can almost smell the heat and the dust and the baseball glove leather.  Potok has a wonderful ability to set a scene that is infused with living, breathing movement that comes off the pages. 

Beyond the opening baseball game, the book is about friendship, religion, and father/son relationships.  It is about Jewish culture and belief.  I personally appreciated a small glimpse into the traditions of Judaism, and its different manifestations.  It was fascinating to learn of the intensity required by some to study the Torah, and to what lengths their devout beliefs go to.  I consider myself devout in my beliefs, and so it was good to be reminded of similar aspects but in a different setting.  It also focuses somewhat around the play between science and spirituality and how they are not always mutually exclusive.

Mostly I loved that for all the focus around Jewish culture, etc. the book really revolves around the friendship of two boys who are different from each other, as well as the relationships of each boy to their own fathers.  And I very much love a book that, once again, doesn't wrap everything up at the end into a neat little package stamped with the phrase, "and they all lived happily ever after."  Not everything is resolved perfectly in the end, and not everyone is happy.  Which makes a good book, because it makes you ask your own questions about how you would be in the given situation?  What kind of parent will I be?  How can friends be so different?  What can forgiveness do for someone?  How do I communicate with my parents/children?  How dedicated am I to my beliefs?  How do I reconcile my beliefs when something or someone challenges them?  These are just a few questions still running through my head after reading the book.  I love a book that I can think about for a long time afterward.

My mother most likely got her copy of this book from her best friend, my aunt (and also my friend) who loved Jewish studies and was fascinated with the culture, people and beliefs.  She went a number of times to Jerusalem to study, and read many books, and met many dear friends.  Unfortunately she passed away a little while ago from a heart condition.  I dearly wish I would have read this book years ago so that I would have had a chance to talk to her about it.  I'm looking forward to someday seeing her again and we'll have that long talk I've been longing for.

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