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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Book Reviews and Iris

This morning I am going to reflect on books I have just read by Chaim Potok. The book club at my church read a book by Chaim Potok last month; The Chosen. I am not able to participate in this book club as I work during the week, but the book is always listed in our bulletin. Having heard, off and on, over the years of "The Chosen" and needing a book to read, I ordered it from Denver Public Library. It has been a long time since I have been so engrossed or taken in by, good writing. The stories are well told and universal to the human condition. Yes, Potok's books, the three I have completed so far in the last month, are about Judaism in its many facets and factions, but deeper than that. We all face the same challenges in the human condition. Truth is universal and I have found these books full of truths.

"The Chosen" so far has the best beginning that just sucked me immediately into the book. It is an innocent enough beginning of a baseball game between two yeshivas (yeshivas: 1. an Orthodox Jewish school for the religious and secular education of children of elementary school age. 
2. an Orthodox Jewish school of higher instruction in Jewish learning, chiefly for students preparing to enter the rabbinate.) in Brooklyn. The boys are approximately 14-15 years old. It goes from the game, and what a game it is, to a friendship between rivals that has a profound effect on both boys. I know there is a movie that was made of this story but I have not seen it.

Next I read "The Promise." It continues the story between these two boys but they are now in college. A third young Jewish male is introduced who is the age they were when "The Chosen" started. 14 or so. He is a troubled young man but he attaches himself to the narrator. Again, an innocent enough tale, and this one I had a hard time getting into at the beginning, but then it hooked me in. This tale explores how a young mind can become tormented, inadvertently, by their parents choices. A fascinating tale. It explores again traditions vs common sense, truth and someones well-being.

Last night I finished "My Name is Asher Lev." This book the library did not have so I had to download to my Kindle. It begins a bit slow at first as well. About a young Hasidim boy, an only child, who has a gift.  He cannot stop drawing. This is not an acceptable practice for a Hasidim. His is an observant Hasidim family. His father cannot reconcile himself to this gift, of Satan, he believes. His mother, encourages young Asher, but not when the father is present. Young Asher feels his mothers pain as she is torn between the beliefs and traditions of her faith and her husband, with her son, also a faithful observant Hasidim who happens to have a gift of expression via drawing, and later, painting that he cannot give up and remain true to who he is. The son and the father remain at odds throughout this story ending in a climax I will not reveal here. A very universal tale, but told from within the Jewish Hasidim culture. I read a comment last night on a blog post where the man was put off by the Jewish language for customs and traditions he knew not of, but in "The Chosen," Potok's first book, he does give a lot of explanations to some of those words that may not be in the normal lexicon of most people. If you start with one of his later books, not so much is explained although much can be gleaned by context or looking them up. Chaim Potok was a painter as well as a Rabbi and I believe this story is autobiographical, to what extent, I am not sure. The next book, which I am now reading, is "The Gift of Asher Lev." It has begun when Asher is married, with 2 children and is a world-renowned artist living in southern France. He is returning to Brooklyn for his uncles funeral. It is not a warm welcome for Asher.

On another note, but still related to art, I saw an enchanting movie last night. It will be at the Chez Artiste theater in Denver through Tuesday night. "Iris" is a documentary of Iris Apfel. It is amazing and hilarious and I highly recommend it. Especially to any and all who are interested in fabrics, decorating and style. She is an artist in her own right and still going strong at 93. Let that be a lesson to all of us!

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