I squeezed my eyes shut. The book I was reading sat in my sweaty hands, its sharp corners cutting into my palms. Why couldn’t the house be quiet? I felt like crying. There was too much noise—the vacuum’s irritating drone coming from the hallway, my sister singing some song of her own invention, the CD player playing classical music, someone making soup in the kitchen—and I couldn’t concentrate on the book in my hands. And yet with the noise came the certainty of life. Was this better than those afternoons when I was alone in the house, huddled on the couch? Was eternal noise better than eternal silence?
The Chosen is an award-winning novel written by Chaim Potok. It tells the story of Reuven Malter, a young Jewish boy living in 1940s Brooklyn. Reuven is playing baseball one day when a boy named Danny Saunders deliberately strikes Reuven in the face with the ball. When Danny visits Reuven at the hospital later that week, their friendship begins to bloom. But Danny’s father, a Hasidic Jew, is unlike any Jew that Reuven (a Zionist) has ever met. Will Reuven be able to weather this bitter clash of cultures?
Danny Saunders is a fascinating character. Danny is a genius; he knows how to speak several languages and is reading Freud (a German psychologist) by the age of fifteen. Although he is not allowed to, he reads American literature and papers written by revolutionary scientists. In fact, he is so bright that his father, a rabbi, despairs. Can one be too intelligent? To Reb Saunders, Danny’s father, yes. Danny’s hunger for knowledge is too great, Reb Saunders complains. How will Danny learn compassion?
One of the main themes of this book is silence. Danny is raised in silence; his father only speaks to him when they are studying the Talmud, the Jewish scripture, or to give orders. When Reuven hears of this, he is horrified. And when Danny tells Reuven that he can hear silence, Reuven is even more perplexed. He learns that Danny hears the pleas of the world where Reuven hears emptiness. Thus Danny learns compassion—and yet it is taught in the most uncompassionate of ways.
The Chosen is a deep, reflective novel about Judaism, friendship, and silence. With its nostalgic, contemplative voice, it persuaded me that perhaps, just perhaps, too much noise is better than too much silence.
Middle-grade historical fiction, ages 12+
You can buy this book here.