First of all, a little about Potok, he was a Rabbi and his siblings either became rabbis themselves or married one. He had an Orthodox Jewish education and, as well as having a master's degree in Hebrew literature, he also had help doing research for this book. I say this because of some I will say in the review.
The Chosen is not for everyone, you could view it as part history book, as well as being a novel. It may move too slowly for some, but I will say I have now read it three times and have enjoyed it and found it interesting each time. It is about two different sects of Judaism, psychology, a little of the modern history of the Jews, growing up, about the pain of the world, suffering, silence, the relationship between father and son, and most deeply, about friendship and learning to be a true friend.
It is a coming of age story about two unlikely friends, Reuven and Danny. Their friendship is such that one of their sister's teases them about being “David and Jonathan” (who were the most beautiful example of friendship in the Bible). Though they are both Jews, both attend Jewish schools and spend hours a day studying the Talmud (a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, considered second to the Torah), they live in different worlds. They are raised differently. One is raised is a shadowed world, with dark colors, bare walls, and silence from his father; while the other lives in a warmer world with a father who often speaks softly to him about his day, the world, and life.
This book is truly beautiful and equally fascinating. It is a coming-of-age story that is anything but typical.
I normally don't quote so much from the book, but I just wanted to share these. Some excepts that I find fascinating:
“My father doesn't write,” Danny said. “He reads a lot, but he never writes. He says that words distort what a person really feels in his heart...He told me once he wishes everyone could talk in silence.”
After the main character, Reuven, is injured near the beginning of the book he says this to his father: “I wish I was outside now,” I said. “I envy them being able to walk around like that. They don't know how lucky they are.” “No one knows he is fortunate until he becomes unfortunate,” my father said quietly. “That is the way the world is.”
Reuven's father: “Reuven, listen to me. The Talmud says that a person should do two things for himself. One is to acquire a teacher. Do you remember the other?” “Choose a friend,” I said. “Yes. You know what a friend is, Reuven? A Greek philosopher said that two people who are true friends are like two bodies with one soul.”
Reuven and his father: “It all started with a silly baseball game,” I said. “I can't believe it.” “Reuven, as you grow older you will discover that the most important things that will happen to you will often come as a result of silly things, as you call them – 'ordinary things' is a better expression. That is the way the world is.”
My father nodded, “It is a little cruel, Reuven. But that is the way the world is. If a person has a contribution to make, he must make it in public. If learning is not made public, it is a waste...”
Reuven's father: “...Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than a blink of an eye?” He paused again, his eyes misty now, then went on. “I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one's life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is a life worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here. Do you understand what I am saying?”
Danny's father: “A man is born into this world with only a tiny spark of goodness in him. The spark is God, it is the soul; the rest is ugliness and evil, a shell. The spark must be guarded like a treasure, it must be nurtured, it must be fanned into flame. It must learn to seek out other sparks, it must dominate the shell. Anything can be a shell, Reuven. Anything. Indifference, laziness, brutality, and genius. Yes, even a great mind can be a shell and choke the spark.”
Then there is a final speech given by Danny's father that is truly intriguing, but it is too long to write and would give too much away. If, as you are reading, you grow weary during the slower parts, persevere...I promise you it's worth it.
As well as all of this, you also gain a little bit of an understanding why some Jews were so determined to establish a Jewish homeland after WW2, they felt that was the only thing which could give some meaning to the millions of Jews who were killed during the war. You will also see how some sects were vehemently against establishing a homeland, because to do so would be to try and force the hand of God (try to make the Messiah come on their time instead of God's).
Oh, the content rating, I would give it a PG-13 for slight language and mature themes (not as in sex, drugs or anything, but suffering, death, and such). Also, just because there is a “13” in my rating, does not mean a 13-year-old will like it, most will likely not. Perhaps most suitable for 15 and up.