‘The Chosen’ by Chaim Potok (1967)

20Jul07

Chaim Potok’s The Chosen explores being a Jew in the rather tumultuous time of the 1940s and early ’50s. Reuven Malter, raised by a liberal Jewish scholar, befriends Danny Saunders, the son and heir apparent to a Hasidic rabbi. The novel follows the development of their friendship over the course of seven years as it faces obstacles presented by their faith, their fathers, and growing up. ….Geez, this paragraph really sounds like the summary for a book flap.

I found Potok’s writing style to be a little, well, flaccid is the word that comes to mind. His sentence constructions tended to be rather immature, though I do admit that his writing style became more sophisticated as the story progressed and the characters aged. I really disliked the way that he would jump through time, glossing over several months or a year. I understand that he really wanted to set this narrative against the backdrop of the conflict about Israel within the Jewish community, but he could have started the novel in a later year to accomplish that goal. He also could have used the chapter or “part” breaks to represent jumps in time.

Potok examines the different means of communication, emphasizing especially the importance of nonverbal communication. Silence and the compassion or alienation that can emerge from silence is one of the major themes of the novel. The senses are also very important to Potok with sight and hearing playing a big role. While the father/son dynamic is central to The Chosen, female/mother figures are either absent or weak. Many of the characters are also stricken with a chronic illness or recurring bouts of poor health, suggesting that the concept of “The Family” might be sick or ailing.

While I enjoyed the story, I most appreciated the information about Judaism that Potok provides. As I said, I found Potok’s writing style lacking, but I think that I need to reread this novel to fully appreciate some of its themes.

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