The Chosen | Critical Review by Sandra Schmidt

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of The Chosen.
This section contains 534 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Sandra Schmidt

Critical Review by Sandra Schmidt

SOURCE: "Sight Becomes Insight," in The Christian Science Monitor, July 20, 1967, p. 5.

In the following review, Schmidt offers high praise for The Chosen.

The Chosen is a very special book. It deals with a special era—the middle 1940's when war and the end of war was changing the shade of the world—in a special place, the quiet, vivid streets of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, where the heavily Jewish population created an enclave and an atmosphere of special religious and intellectual urgency. The book is a chronicle of intense adolescent friendship between two rather extraordinary boys, and of the unusual relationship in which each stood with his father.

Inner Development

The book is also about a certain kind of passage to manhood. The rites are obscure, not the clear Bar Mitzvah that admits the Jewish boy to the community of responsible adults at age 13, but the far more difficult ceremonies that celebrate integrity, compassion, and humanity in the development of the mature man. Danny Saunders is the Hasid, son of the rabbi, the hereditary leader and ruler of a tight ultra-traditional Hasidic community. Destined to follow his father, his phenomenal mind honed by the relentless, precise, and driving study of the Torah which his father demands, he is haunted by a desire for wider, forbidden knowledge—Darwin, Kant, and Freud, and for vistas of life beyond Williamsburg. Reuven Malter, his friend, the "I" of the book, is the son of an Orthodox scholar, raised in a tradition almost as strict but with a mind, merely brilliant, trained to question and explore.

Images of sight and silence frame the episodes of the boys' friendship. A baseball hurled by Danny in a demonically competitive game shatters Reuven's glasses and nearly costs him the sight of one eye—and in the hospital, newly aware of the possibility of darkness, Reuven puts the light of his childhood behind him. Sight becomes insight and as he begins for the first time to see, Reuven begins also to perceive.

Sounding in Silence

Reuven was raised in dialogue with his father. Danny's image is silence. His father has not spoken to him, except over interpretations of the Torah, since he was a little boy. It is in listening to this concentrated silence that Danny comes to hear humanity, a sound to which he must respond.

In reviewing The Chosen it is impossible not to attempt to explain it. Yet one of the most special qualities of the book is Potok's creation of an intense life that strongly resists explanation. He writes cleanly, with a minimum of detail, and his characters have a spare, introspective honesty that carries conviction. He is also a fine storyteller. Of the many books about Jewish life written in recent years, this is one of the few that does not rely on the automatic connotations, the schmaltz, the Yiddish slang, the Jewish gestalt, to convey its flavor—yet it makes much American Jewish life far more real than, say, Herzog. It is a simple, almost meager story about people who are far from typical—yet the warmth and pathos of the dealings between fathers and sons, the understated odyssey from boyhood to manhood, give the book a range that makes it worth anybody's reading.

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This section contains 534 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Sandra Schmidt
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