At last, I hear you say, a book about the heavily divided Jewish groups in 1940’s Williamsburg, the birth of the post war Zionist movement in New York, the burden of choosing between responsibility to family and community when compared with personal growth, oh and baseball, yes quite a lot of baseball.
It’s fair to say that my knowledge of many of these subjects is sketchy at best, non existent at worst but this fascinating book drew me effortlessly into a world that is very different to mine.
Author Chaim Potok brilliantly shines a light on the closed world of the tight knit communities by focusing on the development two boys as they journey into manhood. Ruven Malter and Daniel Saunders are drawn together as friends despite their families differing views of the true constituents of the Jewish faith. One Orthodox, one Hasidic, both boys have a lot of time to spend on reading the Talmud, which provides basis for all Jewish law.
Well that all sounds pretty dry, but the writing here is wonderful. This is especially true of the mesmerising opening chapter, when boys first encounter each other, during a brilliantly described baseball game. There are also brilliant passages related to us as three unlikely friends track the progress of the Second World War from their neighbouring hospital beds. The post war impact of the holocaust of the Jewish community in New York is also vividly captured. A fascinating and educational read, this is so much more than the traditional American coming of age novel. First published in 1967, it’s still a relevant read today.