Memory

Memory No. 3: Potok’s The Chosen changed my life. –Teens Can Write Too! Blog Chain (January 2013)

Dear Reader/Writer,

This is my first time ever participating in a blog chain, and I’m super excited! The topic is: “Is there one particular book that changed your life? If so, why did you originally choose to read it? What impact has it had on you?”

If nothing else, I think I can say with certainty that hundreds of books have shaped me as a writer, and each of them has, if even in just a tiny way, changed my life. But today I decided to focus on a single book that I would not have read if it weren’t required for school: The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. I had not even heard of it until I received a copy of it in class and was told “read the first three chapters.” There was no blurb on my copy, no anything. I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

The book begins as most books for English class tend to begin: boringly, with completely unrelatable characters (unless you’re the son of a rabbi living in Brooklyn during WWII…). The story itself is lacking in action, strong female characters, and earth-shatteringly beautiful prose. The narrative arc follows a (non-romantic) friendship, focusing also on father-son relationships, religion, and silence.

It all begins with a softball match between Reuven’s high school and Danny’s yeshiva, which ends abruptly when Danny hits a ball breaking Reuven’s glasses and injuring his eye. Danny later visits Reuven (who is at the hospital) to apologize, and slowly they begin to form a friendship. Soon enough it is revealed that Danny is an uber-genius aspiring to be a psychologist (which is only, like, the coolest thing ever), but that his father needs him to become a rabbi. The thing about Danny’s father is, however, that he only speaks to his son when discussing the Talmud. He wants his son to be able to hear silence.

The Chosen features everything that I had never known I was looking for. It features a brilliant main character who is in no way stereotyped or dehumanized. Instead, Danny has intensely conflicted emotions of hate, love, and confusion brought alongside his drive to discover intellectual truth.  It was only when I read the part where Danny confesses to going to the public library to read secular works by authors such as Freud and Dostoevsky that I realized I could actually relate to the characters in The Chosen. Yes, I may be Asian and female and an agnostic living in the twenty-first century (as opposed to Caucasian and male and Jewish in the 1940s), but I’ve read (and loved) Dostoevsky. As I continued to read, I found myself further drawn into the story by the focus on a single friendship (instead of the all-too-common romance). After all, I have never fallen in love. School and learning and just talking (instead of running around fighting demons) are major parts of the novel, and I found that strangely compelling.

As the story continues, Potok raises questions about religion in a modernizing world. Although I did not necessarily agree with his answers (he himself having been a rabbi), I found them still to be incredibly satisfying.

But what really makes the book amazing is the ending.

The ending is absolutely brilliant. I would feel guilty telling you what happens, but I assure you—the entire book is worth reading if only for the reason behind Danny’s father’s silence. It’s such a beautiful display of his unconditional love for his child and the strength of their father-son bond. Chaim Potok brilliantly executes this revelation, explaining what must be explained and yet leaving unexplained many of the emotions that even the characters themselves do not understand. In a way, he’s the one that taught me to do that in my own writing: explain only what you must, because when you lay it all out in words it is set in stone, but what you do not explain the reader can explain with a multitude of explanations and answers and possibilities, all of which are true.

This is the main way in which The Chosen changed me as a writer. It also did a number of other things to my writing such as push me towards focusing more on character emotions, as well as helped feed my growing interest in the role of religion and faith in our lives and the concept of secular spirituality. In addition to all of these things, it encouraged me to be unashamed of who I am. By creating characters who were so relatable—characters whose emotions I could repeatedly identify myself with—it helped me realize that a lot of things I’m going through now, people have been going through again and again for the past millennial. I don’t know why it was a book about a friendship between two Jewish boys that finally showed me this, but who said life makes sense?

A lot of the books I read give me the opportunity to escape my own world. But The Chosen looked at the world I live in and introduced characters I could fully relate to. The way friendship is everlasting, knowledge is an obsession, and silence can mean everything—using main characters whose confusion I could relate to, Chaim Potok reminded me of all the things I needed reminding of.  And when reading about characters asking the very same questions I ask and as much at a loss for answers as I am, I felt connected. In this way, The Chosen changed my life.

Sincerely,

Alouette

P.S. Read about the books that changed the lives of my fellow Teens Can Write Too! blog chain participants!

January 5th – Muslim Spirit by Fida
January 6th – The Teenage Writer
January 7th – Miss Alexandrina
January 8th – Between The Lines
January 9th – Avon’s Babbles
January 10th – Life.
January 11th – Inside The Junk Drawer
January 12th – Notebook Sisters
January 13th – Musings From Neville’s Navel
January 14th – The Loony Teen Writer
January 15th – A Mirror Made Of Words
January 16th – Epistolary Girl
January 17th – Inklined Writers
January 18th – Zara Hoffman’s Blog
January 19th – SydneyJoTo
January 20th – Reality Is Imaginary
January 21st – The Little Engine That Couldn’t
January 22nd – Writers Response
January 23rd – John Hansen Writes
January 24th – Miriam Joy Writes

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Categories: Dear Past, Memory | 6 Comments

Memory No. 2: Nobuaki was a friend of mine.

Dear Nobuaki,

I haven’t seen you since fifth grade. Or was it fourth grade? Wait, maybe it was third grade. Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with you online, and sometimes I wonder what happened to you in the past several years. Because life has gone by, and I’ve changed. But I still have the image of a nine-year-old Nobuaki in my mind.

Firstly, you asked me about the SAT. The SAT is one of the stupidest tests you will take in your life. It’s also one of the most important ones you will take in your high school career, if you intend to study in the US. It has a writing, reading, and math section. In my own opinion, the reading is the easiest, the writing the second easiest, and the math the hardest. However, because you are getting a famed Japanese education, you may very well disagree. Either way, it is an astoundingly easy test for which the best way to prepare right now is to read everything you can and pay attention in math class. In eleventh grade you might want to look through the official SAT test book, and if you can you should take the PSAT in eleventh grade (do they offer it in Japan?). But otherwise, don’t fret. It’s only one of many things you need to do well on to get into college.

And that’s where grades come in. You realize this, and I realize this, and grades are important. I honestly don’t think you should worry too much about the precise numbers you need to get into Yale, which is one awesome school (my dad got his PhD there). But at the same time, you need good grades. They don’t need to be stellar now; you have three more years to show what you can do as a student, and junior year is what matters most. And also, because you spent a lot of time abroad, it’s understandable that you wouldn’t have an A+ in Japanese. Play your strengths to your advantage, and you’ll be fine.

Secondly, you introduced me to the awesomeness that is Piers Morgan. Thank you.

Thirdly, you mentioned that you lived in Scotland for awhile, and that Scots call erasers “rubbers.” I want to live in Scotland; it sounds like so much fun! And so does table tennis–I think you’re the only person I know who plays it.

Fourthly, you asked me about good books to read. As I said, you should read Ender’s Game. I first read it when I was nine, and since then I have reread it each year. Maybe, since you think Aristotle is so cool (he is, I agree), you could read Nicomachean Ethics? Or maybe you should read his Metaphysics. An ethics professor recommended it to me a few years ago. He was teaching a class over the summer, right before he went to teach a course in Dublin, and he recommended a lot of interesting books to me. Crime and Punishment was absolutely amazing. Dostoyevsky always seems to get overshadowed by Tolstoy, but really, Dostoyevsky is brilliant.

Lastly, on the evolution of mathematics and how it was revolutionized by the Cartesian plane: I will speak about it in another post later this week, if only because I think it’s a wonderful topic that requires its own response.

Hoping all is well,

Alouette

P.S. You choosing Bill Gates over the Bible because Bill Gates is more accepting of laziness made me laugh.

“How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” -Proverbs 6:9–11

vs.

“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” -Bill Gates

Categories: Dear Past, Memory | Leave a comment

Memory No. 1: Ten memorable things.

Dear 2012,

You were a monster of a year. Being thirteen was a strange but unremarkable experience, and it has left me on the verge of new beginnings. Here are some of the ten most memorable things about you.

10. Discovering the wonder that is German opera.

9. Doing over 160 hours of community service.

8. Scoring in the 99th percentile for college-bound seniors on a practice SAT. I swear it was a fluke. Now I just need to do as well on the real thing in junior year….

7. Discovering the beauty of ancient mathematics from the days before the Cartesian plane.

6. Performing a Korean masked dance.

5. Taking a class on dystopian literature.

4. Learning Chinese and Slovak for the first time and discovering Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis.

3.  Taking my first college composition class ever! I learned an incredible amount about creative writing from this course.

2. Building a model car.

1. Interrogating Holly Black on how plot works in a fantasy novel, eating vegan brownies with Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, asking Rose Fox about the process of editing fiction, and getting lots of free books.

Yes, I cheated a bit there at the end with the four-in-one thing. Oh well! xD

Best (and Goodbye),

Al

Categories: Dear Past, Memory | 6 Comments

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