I probably shouldn’t have started out with that “after-school special” comment, because the truth is that in spite of all that, I enjoyed The Chosen very much. It grabbed me and held onto me; I was completely unable to stop thinking about it for 24 hours (which is about how long it took me to read it, all told) and even now, I still think about some of the ideas the book brings up. I can already tell the story is one of those that will stay with me for a long time.
The Chosen (which takes place between the end of the Great Depression to a few years after the end of WWII) is the story of two exceptional boys from different Jewish backgrounds who meet under lonely and difficult circumstances and become best friends. Their families are different, their fathers (both of whom figure largely in the story and in each boy’s intellectual development) are seemingly at odds, and neither boy quite fits in with the world around him. When the book begins the boys are just entering that passionate and impetuous phase of adolescence; and so is the world around them as America’s role in the war grows.
On a historical level, the book is a revealing look at the era just during and after WWII. Any mention of WWII will always bring to mind Hitler and the horrors he committed, but rarely have I had the opportunity to view those atrocities from an insider’s point of view. And even these boys are not truly on the inside; they are helpless witnesses, touched on a personal level, but unable to take any action to effectively fight the nebulous monster bent on destroying their ancestry and birthright.
Beyond this, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the world of Hasidic and Orthodox Judaism, a world I already have a more than passing interest in. The devotion to study and tradition exhibited by the main characters is inspiring, and in many ways very appealing. I have always been intrigued by the aspect of Jewish tradition that is all-encompassing, bleeding into every aspect of life–what you eat, how you cook, an entire 24 hours of every week–the things that make it not merely a belief, but a way of life.
One thing missing from the book was any kind of female point of view, or even any female character of substance. Now, it doesn’t bother me if a book is man-focused. Some books (although appealing to both genders) are masculine, and some are essentially feminine. But The Chosen mentioned the role of women in this unique community just enough to make me curious, and then never followed through. It was a little tease that didn’t satisfy.
Truly, this book explores so many themes, it would be impossible to deconstruct them all in one blog post: male friendship, father-son relationships, independence and loyalty, tradition and submission, the quality of silence, and standing out in a crowd. I would love to find a book similar to The Chosen, but written on a more adult level. I really found it only touched on issues that I wanted to delve into deeply and explore to the utmost. It piqued my curiosity and set me on the road to further study.