The Chosen

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About The Book

A coming-of-age classic about two Jewish boys growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s, this “profound and universal” story of what we share across cultures remains deeply pertinent today (The Wall Street Journal).

It’s the spring of 1944 and fifteen-year-olds Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders have lived five blocks apart all their lives. But they’ve never met, not until the day an accident during a softball game sparks an unlikely friendship. Soon these two boys—one expected to become a Hasidic rebbe, the other at ease with secular America—are drawn into one another’s worlds despite one father’s strong opposition.

Set against the backdrop of WWII and the creation of the state of Israel, The Chosen is a poignant novel about transformation and tradition, growing up and growing wise, and finding yourself—even if that might mean leaving your community.

Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Chosen includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Although Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders have lived within blocks of each other in Brooklyn for fifteen years, they do not meet until the day they step onto a local play yard as fierce opponents in a wartime baseball game that represents much more than mere sport. As both teams battle for the honor of their community, an aggressive hit by Danny causes Reuven to suffer an injury that could maim him for life. After Danny shows up at the hospital to apologize, the two are transformed almost instantly from enemies to best friends, and Danny begins to share with Reuven his secret hopes for his life and future. However, the boys’ friendship is not without its obstacles: Danny is a Hasidic Jew, whose father, a tzaddik, believes passionately in upholding the traditions he was raised with, while Reuven is the son of a Jewish scholar who insists that their people simply cannot afford to wait for the Messiah. While Reuven believes himself the sole keeper of Danny’s secrets, Reuven’s father has his own secret: He has been recommending secular books to Danny at the boy’s request without his father’s knowledge. As the horrors of the Holocaust come to light and the Jewish community clashes violently over the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, Danny’s father bans his son from having any further contact with Reuven or his father. During their years of friendship as well as their difficult years of estrangement, the boys confront their differences, question the traditions they know, and reexamine their faith as they consider their place in the world. As they move together from boyhood to manhood, they must forge their own paths and decide for themselves what it means to have a life filled with meaning and purpose.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Why do you think the author settled on the title The Chosen for this novel? To what does the term refer? Also, where do readers encounter the theme of being chosen or else actively choosing in the story? According to the novel, what, if anything, are we able to choose for ourselves, and what is chosen for us?

2. How are the schools that Reuven and Danny attend different? Why do the boys from each school exhibit such animosity toward one another in the play yard? Alternatively, what do all the boys have in common? Within the boys’ schools, how does Reuven say that brilliance is defined? How does this definition of intelligence compare to its definition in the outside world? Which kind of intelligence do Danny and Reuven seem to be most interested in? Explain.

3. Reuven says that he met Danny because of World War II. What does he mean by this? How does the war bring the two boys together? What does baseball represent according to Reuven?

4. What is an apikoros? Why does Danny refer to Reuven in this way? Why is Danny’s use of this term ironic? What does Reuven think the yeshiva team believes about the game and what it represents to them? Does he agree with their view of the competition?

5. What does Danny say to Reuven when he visits him in the hospital? How does Reuven respond to this? What advice does Reuven’s father give his son when Reuven mentions Danny’s initial visit? Why do you think he gives him this advice? Does Reuven take his father’s advice?

6. How is Reuven changed by the experience of his injury and recovery? Consider how sight and ways of seeing function as symbols and motifs thereafter in the book. What other examples are there in the novel of a character’s sight changing either literally or metaphorically, and what causes these changes?

7. What does Reuven’s father say is “the purpose of man” (page 98) and with what does he believe a man must fill his life? In what does Reuven’s father find purpose? What does Danny’s father believe his purpose is? Do either Reuven or Danny find their purpose by the conclusion of the story? If so, how do they accomplish this and what must they sacrifice in order to do so?

8. Although Reuven narrates the story, Danny also functions as a main character. Consider how we come to know the two characters by way of their relationship. What unites the two characters and how are they different? What common struggles do they face and how does each surmount them? What do we learn about each character through their relationship that we might not otherwise be privy to?

9. Explore the motif of silence. Why does Reb Saunders refuse to talk to his son except in association with his studies? How does Danny react to this? What do Reuven and his father think of the way Reb Saunders raises Danny? What other examples of silence are found throughout the novel? At its conclusion, does the book answer the question of whether silence is ultimately positive or negative, necessary or destructive? Explain.

10. Compare and contrast the father-son relationships in the book. What do the two fathers have in common and what divides them? How do the boys perceive their fathers? Describe how each man raises his son. What does each father try to teach his son or instill in him, and why do you think these lessons are important to the boys? Why does Reuven’s father say that he respects Danny’s father even though he disagrees with his beliefs?

11. How does each of the main characters react to the news of the Holocaust? Does this revelation unite the characters or set them further apart? Is this surprising? Why, or why not?

12. Consider the theme of suffering. Why does Reb Saunders believe that suffering is necessary? Does the book ultimately seem to support his view or overturn it? Explain. How do each of the characters suffer and how are they changed as a result of their suffering? Are the changes primarily positive or negative?

13. Examine how the backdrop of historical events helps to illuminate the major themes of the book. What major historical events are represented in the book? How do the characters respond to these events? What do we learn about the characters from their responses to these events?

14. Evaluate the theme of tradition versus modernity. Does the novel ultimately suggest that tradition is positive or a hindrance? Why does Danny’s father insist on carrying on the traditions he knows? How does Reuven’s father feel about tradition? Why is Danny ultimately willing to part with some of the traditions he knows? Do you believe that he made a good decision? Discuss.

15. Reuven’s father tells his son that he doesn’t know if it was ethical to give Danny books without Reb Saunders’s knowledge. Do you believe that it was ethical for him to do so? Why, or why not?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Reuven indicates that his entire perspective or way of seeing changed after his injury and recovery. Consider an event from your own life that altered your perspective in a major way. What was this event and how did it change you? How do you think you would be different today if this event had not taken place? What might this suggest about the usefulness of suffering, obstacles, and conflict in a person’s growth and development?

2. Use The Chosen as a starting place to discuss the subjects of intellectual freedom and banned literature. Danny spends much of his time in libraries secretly reading books that he knows his father would not approve of. Why doesn’t Danny’s father want him reading these works? Consider some other cultures that ban particular works of literature or place limits on intellectual freedom. Why are these works off-limits and what are some of the ramifications for reading such banned material in these cultures? You might consult PEN.org to explore this topic further.

3. Compare The Chosen to other works of contemporary literature that explore the subject of tradition versus modernity. In these works, which traditions are upheld and which are dispensed with? What significance do the traditions have for the characters who observe them? What place do you believe traditions have in modern culture? What are some traditions that you observe and what are some traditions that are no longer observed in your family or culture? Does the observance of, or adherence to, tradition necessarily limit progress? Discuss.

4. Consider the book’s exploration of Zionism. Why do the characters in the novel have such passionate views on this subject? What tragedy helped them to find some middle ground or bring the issue closer to home? Have the prejudices and conflicts reflected in the book around this topic been resolved today, or do they still exist? If they still exist, does the book seem to offer any suggestions as to how this might be remedied?
About The Author

Chaim Potok was born in New York City in 1929. He is the author of nine novels, including The Chosen (1967), The Promise (1969), and My Name is Asher Lev (1972), as well as three plays, three children’s books, and three works of nonfiction. An ordained rabbi, he served as an army chaplain in Korea and received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He died in 2002.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 2016)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501142482

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Raves and Reviews

“Anyone who finds The Chosen is finding a jewel. Its themes are profound and universal.... It will stay on our bookshelves and be read again.”

– The Wall Street Journal

The Chosen is one of the best novels I have read in the last decade. The author asks and provides unique and original answers to the nature of parental love, infuses his novel with a quiet and compelling wisdom, and brings alive a period and neighborhood with rare style.”

– Los Angeles Times

“Perceptive, touching, exquisite, and unusual.... This is a most profound novel: Chaim Potok is a gifted writer.”

– The Boston Sunday Herald

“It makes you want to buttonhole strangers in the street to be sure they know it’s around.... It revives my sometimes fading belief in humanity. Works of this caliber should be occasion for singing in the streets and shouting from the rooftops.”

– Chicago Tribune

“So entertaining, so full of love and compassion that readers of all persuasions will take it to their hearts. Mr. Potok is writing about two fathers and their sons... in a way that will ring just as true at Iowa as in Brooklyn.”

– Publishers Weekly

The Chosen is a compelling, absorbing book. It offers deep, sympathetic insight into the variety and profundity of Jewish tradition and heritage. It’s interesting as social commentary and as, simply, story. It’s a joy to read for its splendid, singing prose style as much as for its message.”

– Minneapolis Star Tribune

“We rejoice, and even weep a little.... Long afterward it remains in the mind and delights.”

– The New York Times Book Review

“It is a simple, almost meager story... yet the warmth and pathos of the dealings between fathers and sons and the understated odyssey from boyhood to manhood give the book a range that makes it worth anybody’s reading.”

– The Christian Science Monitor

“A fine, moving, gratifying book.”

– Saturday Review

“Sensitively written and heartwarming.”

– Library Journal

“A coming of age classic.”

– The Boston Globe

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