As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

February 10, 2012

THE CHOSEN by Chaim Potok, 1969

It is the now-classic story of two fathers and two sons and the pressures on all of them to pursue the religion they share in the way that is best suited to each. And as the boys grow into young men, they discover in the other a lost spiritual brother, and a link to an unexplored world that neither had ever considered before. In effect, they exchange places, and find the peace that neither will ever retreat from again.... (Goodreads)

Review by Kim Harris Thacker, writer, mommy, and Bookshop Talk Host

I have never struggled so hard with writing a book review. Chaim Potok’s THE CHOSEN is the kind of book you want to recommend to everyone, complete strangers included, because it’s so remarkable; but while it’s an essential read, its themes and lessons are so subtle as to make a review of it almost impossible without completely divulging all those wonderful details that make a gentle book like this one worth reading.

So. I’m going to do this review a little differently than I’ve done other reviews. I’m going to pick some key components of the novel and address those components.

Characters: I absolutely love every single character in this story—except one. Him, I feel very sorry for. These characters are so vivid. So real. I want to hang out with Reuven and hug Danny. Reuven’s dad wins the “Best Dad Ever” prize.

Setting: I swear I could smell the tea and the Shabbat meals, and though I’ve never set foot in a New York brownstone, I saw the layout in my mind’s eye.

Plot: The plot is, on the outset, what a reader might call “slow.” This is a very character-driven novel, though there are plenty of physical events that move the plot forward, too. Be patient with this story, because once it gets going (or maybe I should say, once you get going—because you’ll realize the story has always been going, actually), it builds and builds and builds until you’d think you were reading a bestselling thriller.

How the author relates to the work: Chaim Potok was born into a Hasidic Jewish community in the Bronx in 1929. His Talmudic scholarship is evident in the pages of THE CHOSEN, where there are numerous passages devoted to explanations of Jewish culture (and sub-cultures) and beliefs. But these passages don’t slow the story down; rather, they enrich it. They are necessary and so intriguing!
I hope you’ll read this book along with your other World War II novels. It will broaden your understanding of the effects of the Holocaust on American Jews.

Market: adult (though I would recommend it to a mature younger reader), historical fiction
Language: mild
Sensuality: none
Violence: moderate (eye trauma; reference to the horrors of the Holocaust; poor health)
Mature Themes: bigotry, psychological abuse

Book formats:


Alice said...

I've always wanted to read this book. I actually bought a used copy from the library years ago and still haven't read it yet!

pie said...

This is such a good book, with a lot in it to think about. The sequel, THE PROMISE, is good too, and it's nice to see what happens to Reuven and Danny as they become adults.

Katie L. said...


Lovely review, too. :-)

Anonymous said...

@Alice: I hope you'll read it! It's really one of the most amazing books I've ever read.

@pie: I haven't read the sequel, but I promise that I will!

@Katie L.: Thank you for giving me this book, friend!