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DAVITA'S HARP by Chaim  Potok


by Chaim Potok

Pub Date: March 11th, 1985
ISBN: 0449911837
Publisher: Knopf

Jason's family is making their ``third move in five years''; once again, Jason says good-bye to his friends and packs his belongings. Meanwhile, he finds comfort up in a dogwood tree. It listens to his worries and even answers, and when it's time to leave an old Ilana Davita Chandal is the New York-born daughter of Michael and Anne, both Communists of the Thirties. Michael is a Maine native and newspaper writer; Anne (once Channah) is a brilliant ideologue with a bitter European-Jewish past(her rabbi-father's paternal neglect, pogroms); they are atheistic, committed, peripatetic. (Party cell meetings necessitate many moves to different apartments throughout the city.) And, now and again, the Chandals give respectful shelter to an old friend of Anne's from Europe, Jakob Daw, a tubercular writer of political allegories. As liana Davita grows up, then, Daw introduces her to the widened-out perimeters of the imagination. Meanwhile, David Dinn—a Jewish boy living next door to the Chandals at the Seagate beach one summer—introduces her to an almost opposite world: the strange, beguiling forms of religious observance. So, while her father goes to Spain to cover the Civil War, Ilana Davita begins to attend a local synagogue on Saturdays (against her mother's wishes); then her father is killed at Guernica—and mother Anne loses her political faith with the Stalin/Hitler pact. There's still more loss ahead: Jakob Daw, deported from refuge in the US because of his politics, dies in France. And eventually Ilana Davita and her mother—both cast adrift—come ever closer into the orbit of consolation that religion can provide: Anne nurses Michael's devoutly Christian sister Sarah; Ilana Davita enrolls in a yeshiva; later Anne marries David Dinn's father, an immigration lawyer she knew from Europe, an Orthodox Jew who tried to help with Jakob Daw's fight to remain in the country. Thus, the reclamation of Jewish heritage is complete at last—Yet Potok refuses to end the novel on this uplifting note. Instead, the theme of justice rises at the finale—as Ilana Davita, a crack student at the yeshiva, finds herself discriminated against because of her sex: Potok seems to be arguing both for sexual equality in Judaic practice and for a more liberal Torah hermeneutics, involving allegory and imagination. As in The Book o Lights, Potok's themes in this long novel are developed slowly, sometimes repetitiously often undramatically; Ilana Davita's narration, which has a somewhat YA-ish quality, tends to underline each point rather too heavily. Still, despite the faulty pacing, the ideas here are rich, provocative, thickly interesting: the soul's desire for a sustainable faith, the tension between political, worldly justice and religious, spiritual justice. And, for readers who've been happy to settle down and tackle Potok's previous ventures into philosophical fiction, this will not be a disappointment.gardener gives him a sapling that promises similar comfort in his future home. Stagily wistful, overwritten, long, and punctuated with pointless scenes, this well-known novelist's first children's story has little to recommend it. Auth captures some of the atmosphere that goes with any big childhood change, but can't compensate for the story's unwieldiness and inconsistencies. At one point, the mother's ``sacrifice'' for the move is that she'll give up her travel-agency job. That idea is dropped, and readers are given a scene of her at her parents' graves: ``It's hard for me to leave them.'' It would be, if there were any emotional authenticity within these pages—but there's not. Picture book. 5-9)