Thursday, May 5, 2011

Law & Grace

2 years ago I fell in love with Chaim Potok and read, read, read. Last week I was thinking about him again and ordered a couple of his books through the library. Read Old Men at Midnight yesterday and I'm still in love. He is an artist, a master story teller, a compelling historian.

Old Men is a trilogy of stories with a peripheral character that floats in and around the others. The first is about the sole survivor of a village devastated by WWII. It is titled "The Ark Builder." It is bittersweet with themes of purpose, loss and calling.
The second, The War Doctor, is set in Russia in WWII. Creepy. A dark look at the sociopathy of Stalin's Russia.
The third, the most confusing, The Trope Teacher. Themes of loss and meaning. One wonders if the main character is psychotic because of the trauma and loss, or because of the pain meds that manage the trauma and loss. There is trope upon trope embedded in this story. Not in the way that Voskamp's writing (1000 Gifts) is trope laden, to the point of confusion,  but saturated with meaning and history and metaphor.

The World Wars, clearly, and making sense of them, are Potok's life work. His burning question, how to make sense of the diabolical and senseless. This book is about being people of the Torah and how even when one follows the rules with devotion and fervor, the unthinkable can and does happen. It's about the limits of law; how law does not prevent tragedy and evil.

"He (the Trope Teacher) taught me the music of the book written by the creator God...I felt certain that I was learning the music chanted by God Himself whenever He opened the pages of the sacred narrative. and the angels, too, used that melody each time they told that story to one another. So Mr. Apiski informed me one evening. Sweetly the celestial choir sang the sacred trope, and the music ascended through all the heavens and reached to the seventh heaven wherein was the Throne of Glory on which sat the Creator god, and the Creator god would hear the chanting and be transported with joy, and the joy would overflow and drift downward from the Divine Presence, down like an invisible benevolent rain through all the lower heavens and the fiery starts to our troubled Earth, and brush humankind with tits radiance, and for a time there would be peace in the world and an abundance of happiness."

Beautiful words, but they also highlight the shortfall of "getting it right," Which is, you can't.

Bonhoeffer and Ten Boom. Wiesel and Potok. Faith that sustains. Law that falls short. Compare & Contrast.

4 comments:

Jennifer said...

Potok is one of my favorites. My name is Asher Lev I think is one of Potok's masterpieces. He gets into the head of a brilliant jewish artist....

LaughingLioness said...

I like Asher Lev, too! Really thought provoking.

Jen said...

I had to read The Chosen in high school...so good!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I love Potok, too. I've only read Davita's Harp (many years ago) and The Chosen, but I want to read more. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about these stories.

Here's my review of The Chosen, if you're interested-->

http://www.hopeisthewordblog.com/2009/06/10/book-review-the-chosen-by-chaim-potok/