Year of a Hundred books – #79 Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn HeightsBrooklyn HeightsMiral al-Tahawy

2/5

Brooklyn Heights, which tells the story of Hend, a single mother who emigrates from her village in Egypt to New York City, is interesting mostly because of the story it tells about her early life, rather than because of the post-immigration narrative. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s enough to carry the whole book.

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Year of a Hundred books – #54 The Bell Jar

The Bell JarThe Bell JarSylvia Plath
4/5

While I was reading The Bell Jar I frequently found myself reminded of Save Me The Waltz. There are a lot of parallels between the two: both are semi-autobiographical novels written by talented women married to more famous literary men (in this instance the poet Ted Hughes), and both deal with the tragedy of mental illness. Fortunately, The Bell Jar is by far the easier of the two to read, and arguably the story is more interesting.

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Year of a Hundred books – #6 The Chosen

The Chosen,by Chaim Potok

5/5

Nu, for the first time in My Year of 100 Books, I’ve given a book Five Stars. (Is it tacky to reference/imitate the book’s narrative style in reviews? I can never decide). The Chosen tells the story of the unlikely friendship between two teenage, Jewish, New Yorkers.

In the brief and almost entirely spoiler-free (yes, really!) introduction, the commentator says during his youth, different people told him The Chosen was about different things, and then gives his own conclusion:

“In grade school, they told me it was about Judaism. […] In middle school, they told me it was about the Holocaust. […] In high school, they told me it was about Zionism.

But The Chosen, […] is primarily about fathers. And about sons. And about fathers and sons”

This is perhaps the best way to explain the novel, as while it does feature the first three options very heavily, at its heart it is about the relationships of the two protagonists with their fathers, and each other’s fathers.

Even if it is about fathers and sons, as I say, the other three subjects are integral to the telling of that story. If you’re interested in Judaism, particularly Orthodox and Hasidism, this is the best introduction I’ve ever come across. It’s explanatory, but all the theology is well blended into the narrative, which is something that’s so often lacking in religiously oriented fiction. It assumes a basic knowledge of Judaism, and almost everything is easy to pick up from context. It also gives a good narrative history of the founding of Israel, and most powerfully, a fantastic portrayal of how American Jews reacted to the revelations of the Holocaust.

If The Chosen has a downfall, it’s that sometimes it gets a bit repetitive, with characters having the same conversations, or snippets of dialogue, more than once, particularly towards the end. This gets a little tedious, especially since everything else that’s going on in regards to plot is so interesting, but that really is my only fault with the story.

The copy, on the other hand, is a different matter. As I mentioned in my post on proof-reading, the version I read (Penguin Modern Classics, as pictured above), is not perfect. In addition to the misspelling of Hasidim, I noticed one or two further errors later in the book. It’s not a big deal, I suppose, but my opinion of Penguin has gone down slightly, and I’d definitely think twice about buying another book in the Modern Classics imprint, despite their aesthetically pleasing covers.

Despite these flaws, I’d still recommend The Chosen wholeheartedly.