The Chosen by Chaim Potok is a book that my brother recommended I read. There are very few books that he likes enough to recommend them to me. So far, each of the books he has suggested to me, over the years, have been incredibly compelling.
Typically, my brother chooses books that fit squarely into the fantasy genre. The Chosen, however, has no fantasy elements.
It focuses on two Jewish boys live in the same neighborhood. Both boys play baseball. My brother is not Jewish, and doesn’t care much about sports. Despite this, he liked The Chosen, possibly because the book has a deep story with a lot of social complexity running through it.
Reuven is a mostly typical teen, growing up in Brooklyn, right around the time WWII is getting going. He listens to the radio, and plays baseball. What isn’t so typical about Reuven is that his mom is dead (he is being raised by his father, with the help of a maid) and he wants to become a rabbi when he grows up. Reuven goes to a school where the entire student population is made up of Orthodox Jews, just like Reuven and his father.
Down the street lives Danny, who is the same age as Reuven, and also Jewish. The have never met, because Danny and his family are Hasidic Jews, and the two groups do not mix. Danny’s father is the rabbi leader of the Hasidic Jews in the neighborhood, and Danny is supposed to take his father’s place someday. That is simply the way things are to be. No one even considers that Danny might want a different life than the one he is expected to assume.
One day, Danny and Reuven are on opposing teams in what turns out to be a passionately violent baseball game. Reuven ends up in the hospital, after being injured by Danny. These two boys seem destined to hate each other, but, oddly enough, become friends.
After a while, they are each other’s best friend. It is a struggle to stay that way though, because they come from two very different worlds. How long can they really hang out with each other before it becomes a big problem for the rest of the neighborhood?
If that’s not enough going on, there’s also the war, which unfolds in pieces. All the characters are affected in profound and devastating ways. This book takes something that is usually presented in school as a list of boring facts about events that happened way before you were born and turns it into something interesting and relatable.
There is also quite a bit about Jewish history woven into the main story line. I am not Jewish, and knew absolutely nothing about any of this before reading this book. For me, this added to the story. It is not necessary to be Jewish in order to enjoy The Chosen. Ultimately, it is a story of two boys, from two different worlds, that end up forming an unexpected friendship with each other.