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New meme - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
New meme
I'm really lonely for some reason I can't fathom. I'm usually better at being alone than this. Please say hello?

Anyway, there are a lot of short-answer memes out there, even short answer memes that go on for a hundred questions, but how about one long-answer meme for a single question?

Answer the following questions about a book you love that you think your f-list would enjoy, but aren't especially likely to have read.

Title: Davita's Harp
Author: Chaim Potok
Setting: 1930s New York; brief visit to Prince Edward Island; much mention of the Spanish Civil War

Main Characters:
Ilana Davita Chandal: The first person narrator, a very imaginative little girl who ages from roughly seven to thirteen in the course of the book.
Michael Chandal: Her non-believing Christian father, an ardent Communist.
Channah (Anne) Chandal: Her non-believing Jewish mother, also an ardent Communist.
Aunt Sarah: Michael's missionary sister, a nurse who travels around the world to help people injured in the battles leading up to WWII.
Jakob Daw: An intellectual writer from Vienna, Channah's former lover.
Ezra Dinn: Channah's religiously observant cousin, who is also an immigration lawyer who helps Jakob.
David Dinn: Ezra's son, who is Ilana's age. A Talmudic genius.

Plot blurb: Ilana, the daughter of a mixed heritage, learns to deal with the death of people and ideas in the confusing time before WWII.

Why I like it: Potok has a lovely, lyrical style, and creates very real characters in his books, whose conflicts aren't easily solved. His best books (The Chosen, My Name is Asher Lev, Davita's Harp) deal with the conflict between first and second generation immigrants in Brooklyn, and I think Davita's Harp is the richest of them. In a story in which a very bright girl comes into conflict with a patriarchal Orthodoxy, you expect an either/or ending--either she comes to love it as it is, or it abruptly "sees the light" and comes around to her way of thinking. DH eschews either of these oversimplifications, and ends almost without ending... a fate which is foreshadowed throughout the book by the odd, haunting stories Jakob Daw shares with Ilana, who is a budding writer herself. I normally dislike stories without endings, but by the time you get there, you know Ilana Davita reasonably well, and can predict the sort of rough road she's got ahead of her.

It also deals with an unusually powerful theme in the death of the Communist dream for people in the 30s, after Stalin made his nonaggression pact with Hitler. It shows how the destruction of deeply held values can destroy the person who has lost them, if there's no one there to help put the pieces back together. It really brings the period to life--the confusion and horror of the civil war in Spain, the beginnings of the Red Scare in America, and of course, like a shadow rising just beyond the sightline, the ultimate horror of the Third Reich. But ultimately, it's a book that doesn't draw conclusions--it just shows a kind of existential loneliness when beliefs are threatened. I think the fact that I was re-reading this was why it struck me so powerfully when I heard someone on the street say (of the election), "All of this, and it was for nothing!" because that's the repeated motif of the book--people running into a hole in their worlds. It sounds depressing, and in fact it's not a happy book, but there's a kind of gentleness in the way Potok handles his people that is really touching. This is one of the few books I really can't finish without crying, because I feel horrible for Ilana Davita and want to bring back all of the people she's lost.

Why (else) I think my f-list, particularly, would like it: A lot of my f-list comes from the sf/f community, and DH does have elements of it, including a couple of incidents which could only be described as either psychic flashes or ghostly apparitions. These are not explained away or reduced to psychology. And the reasons political readers might like it are obvious--it's a really complex look at politics. (Though if you're a Stalinist, you might not like it much, I guess...)

What's not so good about it: Potok is verbose, loquatious, and, might I add, wordy. Ilana as a narrator is often kept at a distance, so while you know perfectly well that certain things are going on in the house, you are never, ever going to see them. She also spends many pages in a kind of unpleasant daze after a family tragedy, which is exquisitely written in my opinion, but if you like more direct expressions of emotion, may be off-putting. Also, Potok tries, G-d bless him, but his attempt at a sympathetic Christian missionary is giggle-worthy. Even a real life missionary will want to tell Aunt Sarah to let up a little bit, already. But he does try, and he never tries to remove Aunt Sarah from Ilana's life. If you're really squicked by a romance between first cousins, you're hereby warned.

I feel a bit...: lonely lonely

31 comments or Leave a comment
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lannamichaels From: lannamichaels Date: November 5th, 2004 07:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's it. I am the only person who did not like that book.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 5th, 2004 07:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I doubt it. Potok can be off-putting by his distancing of narrators, and there's quite a bit in DH that's frankly disturbing. I like it because I find it disturbing in a way that engages me.
mincot From: mincot Date: November 5th, 2004 07:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
(((((((((((((Fern Withy))))))))))))))))))
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 5th, 2004 07:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. :)
siegeofangels From: siegeofangels Date: November 5th, 2004 07:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

That does look interesting. I should really try Chaim Potok again. Being forced to read someone in the tenth grade kind of ruins them for a while.

Stupid question: Does "fernwithy" rhyme with "fern spiffy" or "fern with pie?"
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 5th, 2004 08:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fern spiffy. The "th" is like "the," not "three." I stress the middle syllable. :)
riah_chan From: riah_chan Date: November 5th, 2004 08:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hey! Sorry that you are feeling lonely. ::firm handshake:: I'm thinking about you.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 5th, 2004 08:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! Both the handshake and the thoughts are appreciated.
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: November 5th, 2004 08:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooh, that's a meme I can get behind! *bounces off to look at bookshelf*

Although I have to say that the only book by Potok that really stuck with me was "My Name is Asher Lev."
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 5th, 2004 08:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love Asher, too. When he tells his parents, "Aren't I a Jewish soul? Isn't someone supposed to be responsible for me?"

cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: November 5th, 2004 08:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Please say hello?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 5th, 2004 08:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hi. :)
From: anatomiste Date: November 5th, 2004 08:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I should read that sometime. I've read both My Name is Asher Lev and The Chosen twice, finding them rather thought-provoking.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 5th, 2004 08:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, yeah, that's definitely on an "If you like, then you'll also like..." list with those two. :)

odyssea From: odyssea Date: November 5th, 2004 08:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've actually never read any Chaim Potok. I'm not sure how I missed him. Oh well, I will put it on my list of books to read, after The Feminine Mystique.

Also, Hi!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 5th, 2004 08:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hope you like it!

jiminyc From: jiminyc Date: November 5th, 2004 09:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
My parents had a few Chaim Potok books, but I never got around to reading any of them. I'll add this one to my reading list, though. Your description has my interest up.

I'm sorry you're feeling lonely. ***hugs***
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 5th, 2004 11:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hope you like, and thanks. I don't know what I'd do without the internet.
strangemuses From: strangemuses Date: November 5th, 2004 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hello. You have a lovely journal.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 5th, 2004 11:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hi, and thanks!
arclevel From: arclevel Date: November 5th, 2004 10:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Unfortunately, I haven't read that much fiction lately that wasn't either fanfic (including Buffy books) or stuff most people on my flist has probably read -- HP, LotR, Wicked. School's got me pretty much sticking to the lighthearted. Stuff that I read longer ago, I don't think I remember enough to write a good review. :-(
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 5th, 2004 11:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, well.
endofhistory From: endofhistory Date: November 6th, 2004 01:41 am (UTC) (Link)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 6th, 2004 10:54 am (UTC) (Link)
*waves back*
todayiamadaisy From: todayiamadaisy Date: November 6th, 2004 03:32 am (UTC) (Link)


I'm a bit late, but hello anyway!

I had to read My Name is Asher Lev for Year 12 English, which put me off reading Potok for fun. But I think Year 12 is far enough away now for me to consider it, especially as this does sound interesting.
webbapettigrew From: webbapettigrew Date: November 6th, 2004 04:44 am (UTC) (Link)
Howdy! How the heck-a-roonie are you?
akashasheiress From: akashasheiress Date: November 6th, 2004 06:02 am (UTC) (Link)
*waves* Hi there! :)
31 comments or Leave a comment
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