Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In the Beginning by Chaim Potok

I went through a spell in my late teens where I read everything I could find by Chaim Potok, and I haven't really read him since.  Browsing over my book shelves the other day to find something to read while stuck on the couch nursing Ruby, I pulled off this book, realizing that I have not read it nearly two decades.  It says something about Potok's writing, that I recalled the story quite vividly when I was only a few chapters into the book again.  Another demonstration of the value of re-reading: this book affected me so differently now in my mid-thirties than it did in my late teens. 

"Be patient, David.  All beginnings are hard.  You cannot swallow all the world at one time." (pg 1)

Essentially, In the Beginning is a coming of age story about David Lurie, a Jewish boy growing up in New York between the world wars.  David is brilliant and constantly ill - resulting in an incredibly rich intellectual and emotional life.  Potok does such an amazing job describing how David feels when he is lying sick in bed with headaches and fevers that you almost feel sick just reading it - seriously!  some of the passages make you want to lie down in a darkened room with a cold cloth on your eyes and the comforting murmer of your mom singing in the background! 

When I read this book before, I related to David - his attempts to understand the intensely political adult world around him, his confusion about who he would be and how he would fit into this world.  When I read the book again now, I found myself putting myself in his parents' shoes - struggling to find the balance between educating and sheltering my children from this turbulent adult world, balancing the various needs of my family, feeling pulled between the demands of extended family and the demands of immediate family and worrying about my children's futures. 

 A brilliantly written book.  Highly recommended.

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