Author: Chaim Potok
Details: (c) 1975 Chaim Potok and Adena Potok Trust; Pub Fawcett Crest 1975; ISBN 0-449-22980-7
Verdict: In the beginning is very depressing.
Reasons for reading it: I like Potok a lot.
How it came into my hands: I came across it at my parents' place and grabbed it because I was surprised to find a Potok novel I hadn't read.
On reading this, I think I may in fact have read it before, but it's rather unmemorable. It's an extremely depressing book, with the protagonist's parents arriving in America as refugees from pogroms in Eastern Europe, building a life for themselves only to lose everything in the Depression, and just when they are recovering from that and building everything up a second time, the second world war happens and the Nazis kill all their remaining family and friends in Europe. Meanwhile, the protagonist himself spends his childhood being constantly sick and badly bullied.
It's Potok; the characterization is great, and the evocation of the interwar Orthodox community in New York. It's rather worse than Potok generally is for giving didactic explanations of how Orthodox Judaism works, actually. The trouble is there's not much plot to hang description and characterization on; the story of David growing up while lots of horrible things happen in the wider world isn't quite enough to sustain a novel. I thought that David might be the father of the protagonist of The Chosen, making itB a sort of prequel, but I think it's just Potok repeating previous themes a bit.
On thing that is striking about itB is its portrayal of the reaction of the American Jewish community in 1945 to revelations of just how bad the Holocaust actually was. It made me realize that I've lived my whole life in a world where humans can do something so unimaginably horrible to their fellow humans. But for that generation, they had to find out for the first time about that systematic, industrialized mass murder and everything that went along with it. To call it a loss of innocence is to trivialize the situation very badly, but it's something that made me think.