Read Old Men at Midnight by Chaim Potok Online


From the celebrated author of The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev, a trilogy of related novellas about a woman whose life touches three very different men—stories that encompass some of the profoundest themes of the twentieth century.Ilana Davita Dinn is the listener to whom three men relate their lives. As a young girl, she offers English lessons to a teenage survivor ofFrom the celebrated author of The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev, a trilogy of related novellas about a woman whose life touches three very different men—stories that encompass some of the profoundest themes of the twentieth century.Ilana Davita Dinn is the listener to whom three men relate their lives. As a young girl, she offers English lessons to a teenage survivor of the camps. In “The Ark Builder,” he shares with her the story of his friendship with a proud old builder of synagogue arks, and what happened when the German army invaded their Polish town. As a graduate student, she finds herself escorting a guest lecturer from the Soviet Union, and in “The War Doctor,” her sympathy moves him to put his painful past to paper recounting his experiences as a Soviet NKVD agent who was saved by an idealistic doctor during the Russian civil war, only to encounter him again during the terrifying period of the Kremlin doctors’ plot. And, finally, we meet her in “The Trope Teacher,” in which a distinguished professor of military history, trying to write his memoirs, is distracted by his wife’s illness and by the arrival next door of a new neighbor, the famous writer I. D. (Ilana Davita) Chandal.Poignant and profound, Chaim Potok’s newest fiction is a major addition to his remarkable—and remarkably loved—body of work.From the Hardcover edition....

Title : Old Men at Midnight
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780345439987
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Old Men at Midnight Reviews

  • david
    2019-04-06 16:44

    This is Potok’s last contribution to us. It is not his best, but it is solid.He starts with a young female, named Davita Dinn, who wrests different histories from three men. She is the conduit to the novellas in this triptych.Each one is served up at a different time in her life, but she is essentially a silent trope of this gifted author. In other words, she is the device shared by the three unrelated men, in time and place, to express their personal monody.It starts in the late forties and finishes in the mid 1990’s. The locations cited include the United States, Russia, and Europe.The first concerns a seventeen-year-old boy, a current immigrant to the States from Poland. The second deals with an ex-Soviet KGB operative who meets her at Columbia University in New York City where she currently works. The third involves an older man, a writer, juggling his unfinished memoir and his sickly wife. Davita, at this point, is an accomplished author.Few authors can create a safe space, a palpable warmth on paper, that cradles your heart, while rocking you in a chair, by the hearth, on a cold and blistery white winter’s night. Potok is one of them. His words are as cozy to me as a snug and dearly needed hug.

  • John
    2019-04-09 14:37

    Years ago I loaned this book to one of my sons and just got it back the other day. I see that I added it to GoodReads back in March 2008 and gave it 4 stars. Since this was just days after I joined GoodReads, I assume I first read this book before 2008. That I'd read it at all was not surprising to me since it is my book, and I consider it unlikely that I would have loaned it before I read it. What is surprising is that while reading it this time, I remembered nothing about it. Nothing. Since I'm 72 years old it doesn't disturb me too much when I find I've forgotten some things. But it does disturb me that I forgot everything about Old Men at Midnight, even with the second reading to jog my memory. Ah, well, things are what they are.I love Chaim Potok's books. I have read all his novels and one of his non-fiction books, The Gates of November. I tried Wanderings, his other non-fiction book about the history of the Jews, and found it a bit too heavy for me. But that was a long time ago. Perhaps I'll try it again soon. I don't quite understand why Potok's prose is so appealing to me. His books seem to send out tendrils that wrap about me like bindweed in a flower bed. I was reading Old Men at Midnight during lunch today. After I finished the last page, I emerged from the story to see it was 4:30 p.m. and all my lunch had been eaten, by me I suppose.Chaim Potok died July 23, 2002. I am struggling to forgive him for dying before writing the final book in what would have been an Asher Lev trilogy.

  • Daniel Beasley
    2019-03-28 14:24

    Loved this book! I thoroughly enjoyed the first two novellas then made the mistake of reading reviews here disappointed with the thrid. I enjoyed each of the novellas in its own right but the third most of all. It engaged me the most and I almost read it in one sitting. To explain, some friends have caused me to become intrigued with Judaica and dredging up neglected memories was one of the overall themes of the book. Add to that the third novella's plot element (not a spoiler) of a dying spouse and the sense of the need to waste no time in communicating the past and this was a natural to draw me in. Once again Potok doesn't disappoint. So glad my wife grabbed this from the library for me!

  • Antonie
    2019-04-01 17:39

    I'm going to sound pretentious here, but it's deceptively easy to read. It's broken into three stories, all involving the same character in one way or another, but all revolving around men who are coming to the end of some huge moment of their lives, coming to terms with the things they saw or did. You fly through the stories, and it's only after you're done that you realize how complex they are. It's one of those books I would probably read again immediately after finishing, just to make sure I can catch all the things I missed the first time.

  • Lauren Albert
    2019-04-16 11:48

    I would probably give the last of the three stories a 3 although it gets stronger at the end. In each, a man (or a boy) tells Davita Dinn their stories. She is 18 in the first, a graduate student in the second, and a middle age writer in the third. She is changed by the stories she hears although it is not directly mentioned. I thought the strongest story was The War Doctor which is a searing autobiographical narrative by a Soviet agent who conducted torture sessions during interrogations. You see as the insanity builds under Lenin and Stalin until no one is safe--no matter how he or she has compromised their morals for their leaders. the hunters become the hunted.

  • Judy Cloe
    2019-03-27 16:31

    I thought I had read all of Chaim Potok's works of fiction, but recently discovered this one that was published in 2001. I am so glad I did because I enjoyed it as much as all the others. It is made up of 3 novellas. Each one is a Jewish man's story told to the same woman at various stages of her life. The main themes are the two world wars and how it affected each of the men. The stories are quite compelling and very readable. If you liked Potok's earlier novels, you will like this one as well.

  • Elizabeth
    2019-04-17 18:35

    Potok strikes again with another literary gift. I remain utterly enchanted and challenged by his stories.

  • Jayme
    2019-03-23 13:44

    I loved this. Even the confusion and slight creepiness of the third story (which I still did enjoy, by the way) did not take away from the many beautiful and powerful moments.One criticism first, then praise:The only reason it was not 5 stars is precisely as mentioned above. Davita, seeming a real and whole person in the first two stories, seems to have devolved into a disturbing creepy story-hoarder metaphor in the third, 'bloated' with stories even, obsessed with darkness. I don't at all understand her alternating appearance--the beautiful facade to elicit stories, the aged and obese (more realistic) figure to write them down--and that, along with the sparse but discomfiting sexual thoughts of Walter, and the much less metaphorical haunting that occurs, gave the third story a disconcerting spectral feel right there at the end. That wouldn't be such a problem by itself except it jars against the very historical, full-fleshed feeling of the other two stories. That being said, the third story was still very powerful, particularly with the theme of the ram throughout. The most moving, difficult scene being the boy, practicing for his bar mitzvah four days before his death, sobbed because he saw himself--even the Jewish people as a whole--as the ram in the thicket.The first story was slight, but very good. This one is told in Davita's voice, although we get absolutely nothing of her inner thoughts and feelings. She observes, and she listens. She tells us what street she's on and what the weather is like, but she does not tell us what she is thinking. I found this strange, and the story of the young boy, Noah (a Holocaust survivor, the only of his whole village) was painful...but, somehow (somehow!?) not in a hopeless way. I have read stories about less tragic and more insignificant events that were more bleak and hopeless that this book.The War Doctor (the middle story) was the most riveting story by far. I knew very little about this era in Russia (WWI up through the 1950s) and the horrific aspects of the story are not there to be spectacle at all, they are just present because they are the truth.It is a sorrow that none of the characters (except Noah, whose future we do not know) keep their faith. Davita (unclear, but does not seem at all religious by the end), Leonid Shertov (aka Kalman) and Benjamin Walter all grow up in homes of deep faith. All of them abandon that faith even as it exerts a tremendous power and influence on their lives and their thinking. A hard thing to read.Anyhow, I definitely recommend this book. It builds gently and crescendoes and, although it ends on a sour not-quite-right note for me, it was still very, very worth it.

  • Erin
    2019-04-08 15:49

    "Who needs stories of yet another Jew?""I need them. Without stories there is nothing. Stories are the world's memory. The past is erased without stories." - 74"Every story is some kind of explanation, which explains why I dislike stories ... I became a historian so I would not have to explain anything, only recount the evidence, the facts." - 251There were things I loved and hated about this collection, and for me, a lot of it came down to the frame. Because the stories were linked the way they were, with someone bringing out stories from three very different men, they asked a lot of interesting questions about the act of remembering past trauma. What are we hoping to accomplish by remembering? When we look for meaning in trauma, do we warp our memories so they fit a narrative? Is there a narrative, or is there cruelty out there that is chaotic and inexplicable? What accountability do we have to the people we encourage to tell stories? What do you gain and lose by burying your past? I asked questions of the earlier two stories that I would not have asked if they had not been linked to the issues raised in the third.That said, I own that I am very touchy right now about women's voices being suppressed by men's, and so it didn't sit well with me to see Davita, protagonist of a novel that shaped me in important ways, exist in a story where her only value is her ability to make men's voices heard. In one story, she is not even herself - she is warped through the lens of a character that dramatically cannot see her as she is (even to the point that his physical perception of her is wrong). While I did appreciate learning more about the path she follows, for the kind of role her character played in this novel, I would have preferred an entirely new character. Also, by using Davita as the framing device, Potok chose to frame the stories chronologically through her life, which I think weakened my reading experience. I'll admit that when I read the first two stories, I felt like Potok raised all these juicy issues and then did absolutely nothing with them. In the third, Potok started doing that work, but I would have liked to have a sense of what I should be gaining from these stories earlier in the reading experience.It was thought provoking and I'm glad I read it, but I didn't like this nearly as much as his other books. :) I guess it is greedy of me to want him to produce more than five well-executed novels that shape how I see the world.

  • Jim
    2019-04-17 16:21

    At the end of Old Men at Midnight—at least in the copy I read—the publishers include a short conversation with Daniel Walden during which he makes the following observation about Potok’s style: “Some critics have written that they don’t admire your so-called simple style. You have contended that your writing is a result of much rewriting and much revision and is deliberate” to which Potok adds:The style is simplicity for the sake of complexity. Whoever feels that it is a “simple style” has to look into it and find the right way. Of course the style has become over the years much more complex and much more simple. It’s a good answer. I’ve never read anything by Potok before but I have real Aharon Appelfeld and feel, stylistically at least, there’s common ground here and not just in subject matter. These are considered responses to difficult subjects made all the more difficult because of their seeming familiarity. This book consists of three interlinked novellas. The common factor is a woman, Davita Dinn, born Ilana Davita Chandal, later to become the author I. D. Chandal. “Ilana,” said the reviewer in The New York Times Book Review quoted at the start of the book, “is not the focus of the book, despite her appearances throughout it. Rather, we are meant to concentrate on the stories she elicits, listens to, and reads.” In the central story, perhaps, as she’s not an active participant but her presence is an important one in the first story and especially in, to my mind the best of the three, the final story. In The Ark Builder she’s barely older than Noah, a seventeen-year-old Auschwitz survivor she’s taken on as an English student; in The War Doctor she’s at university; in The Trope Teacher she’s been married and has had a successful career as a novelist and short story writer when she moves next door to and strikes up a friendship with a famous professor who, to get to know his new neighbour a little better, reads her latest collection of stories one of which involves a former colonel of the KGB recalling his years as an interrogator and torturer; we readers realise this is the man whose story is told in The War Doctor and must wonder if she’s actually plagiarised his story.All the stories involve Jews. All involve survivors. The boy, Noah, for example falls sick and Davita decides to visit him. This is the first time she meets his stepmother Sarah Polit who fills in a little of his backstory:      Sarah Polit remained seated on the sofa, looking at the door. Then she turned to me.       “Noah is the only one who survived.”       “The only one in his family? I am sorry.”       “The only Jew in the town.”      I felt cold to the bone.       “Four thousand Jews, and he is the only survivor. My husband and I, we say to ourselves God saved him for a reason.” Kalman Sharfstein is a Jew who, by fluke it so often seems, goes from being a Jew conscripted into a labour battalion in the army of the Tsar to one of the most effective interrogators in the KGB having his name changed along the way to Leonid Shertov For the most part he’s a willing participant, believes in the cause and is happy to leave his Jewishness behind but as time goes on he starts to question the wisdom of his superiors’ commands; the catalyst comes when he learns that the doctor who saved his arm during the war has been arrested along with many of his peers on clearly trumped-up charges. Benjamin Walter was also in the war. His unit in fact comes across one of the concentration camps and I was half-expecting Noah to make a cameo appearance—it might not have even been Auschwitz—but Benjamin’s gone on the become a world-renowned expert on war and not just the Second World War. When Davita encounters him she’s a very different woman, world wise and savvy, and she realises she has a way to help Benjamin find a way into the memoir she learns he’s been struggling with. This, apparently, was the first of the three novellas; the other two came afterwards.From what I’ve read of other people’s reviews what they didn’t like about the third story was what I did. What is perhaps missing is a fourth story showing how she got from the bright-eyed girl in the first two novellas to the slightly ambiguous character we meet in the third; it is a big jump. Those who’ve read the novel Davida’s Harp I think will be especially disappointed by this third story. I think each of these novellas works well enough on its own but brought together like this we look for connections that probably aren’t really there but could easily have been and it might not have been a bad idea to rework these as a single novel but as he was in his seventies when this book was planned—he died the year it was published at seventy-three—perhaps that would’ve been too much to hope for. One problem I did have (but I think I can see why) is emotional distancing. I felt this especially with the KGB interrogator. He tells his story, accurately enough but a little dispassionately; Noah is too close to the war to be anything bar numb; Benjamin had clearly blocked certain memories. Davida asks him:      “Did you really forget about your Mr. Zapiski?”       “Oh, yes. Entirely.”       “And now you’ll be able to sail right through to the end.”       “I’ve already written the end. It was the beginning I couldn’t write.”       “The story you just told me is part of your beginning?”       “It is the myself that predates what I am now. And having recalled Mr. Zapiski for my memoirs, it is my intention to put him out of mind again as quickly as possible.” We never find out what Davida’s working on at the end. She has been a confessor but she’s not a priest; she’s a writer and everything we writers hear is grist to the mill. As she says, “Stories that keep me awake are my life’s blood.” When it seems like Leon will die without telling his stories she presses him to write them down. “Who needs stories of yet another Jew?” he asks. “I need them,” she tells him. “Without stories there is nothing. Stories are the world’s memory. The past is erased without stories.”If you’ve read a lot about the war—and I’ve read far more than I ever would’ve expect to—there’s not a lot new here but each novella has its moments. Perhaps I’m writing this too soon after finishing the book. Maybe I need to let it settle and then decide. It isn’t a book I can see myself ever rereading though although The Trope Teacher probably deserves a second read.

  • Teresa
    2019-03-25 13:25

    This was my eighth Potok book. His writing is brilliant in many ways, but while aspects of this book are quite compelling, several factors give it a low ranking among his works. I found the fluent story placed upon Noah's lips hard to accept, given his heretofore minimal knowledge of English. I had the same reaction when Benjamin made the instantaneous leap from a complete memory block to the flood of details that made up his story. I know Davita was a catalyst for stories, but these situations required quite a suspension of disbelief. Also, in the last story, I could have used a bit more directness in the explanation of the symbolism of Davita's changing appearance. It's probably my own shortcoming, but I had a hard time putting it all together. In any event, I found Benjamin's weird sexual obsession with Davita (and Potok's description of it), while his wife was very ill and he was supposed to be caring for her, to be completely inexplicable and downright creepy!

  • Valerie
    2019-04-10 17:40

    This collection was just okay. The first story was my favorite. Noah seems to be a kid that is going places. The second story was good though I wish there had been more of a story. The third story I found boring. I did like his writing style. I'm not a fan of flowery language especially if the plot is lacking. But his storytelling here isn't anything special.

  • Anna
    2019-03-21 10:32

    I didn’t care for the magical realism element in the last novella, so I just skimmed that part.

  • Jo
    2019-04-04 17:44

    Wish there were more stories.

  • Anne
    2019-04-18 10:48

    The first 2 stories were depressing but powerful. The 3rd was too strange and un-Potok-like for me.

  • Patricia Eichenlaub
    2019-03-24 12:38

    I generally like Potok's work. These stories were haunting but not compelling.

  • Halie
    2019-03-31 16:48

    Reading more of Davita's story was great. Unfortunately, she is the epitome of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It started in Davita's Harp and continued in this book. She is a rich character on her own, but her story is often set aside to further that of the men she encounters, and that's entirely what happens in these 3 novellas. We briefly hear about her and then she interviews and inspires these men, and then she's set aside.

  • Jasonlylescampbell
    2019-03-26 17:42

    Three stories of people struggling with history and life and loss. Davida (of Davida's Harp) was in all three stories, but more of an onlooker. There is something about his pacing, even in short stories. It is so patient. There is an interview at the end of my copy of the book and he talks in it about the novel and what the novel is capable of:One is the handling of character, people. No other form can handle people in significant depth over long periods of time. No other form can move back and forth, in and out, nothing can move the way the novel can in terms of the dimension of time. People and time are what I think the novel is realy all about and I think they are limitless.He exemplifies this idea better than anyone I have read. The last story stands out the most as it was the one I most recently finished. An old man, Benjamin Walker, who is a famous war scholar is trying to write his memoirs, but cannot recall his early childhood memories, specifically, someone who taught him about the rhetoric and language of the Torah (Trope Teacher). Davida moves in next door and tells him that there is always a "ram in the bush". The story explores this idea and the exchange between creativity, meaning and history. Ben and a fellow historian are having lunch and this historian (holocaust survivor) tells him of a conversation with a young jewish boy in Germany who was secretly learning Torah. The boy was crying uncontrollably. When his teacher asked him what his uncle had said to make him cry so, the boy told him the story of the ram. There was a garden of Eden in this world, and one in heaven, where angels and animals live in peace, and that day everyone was watching Abraham binding Isaac to the killing place on Earth ... "it was as if the future depended on the events of the next moment--surely all Creation would be transformed with the death of Isaac and the end of the Jewish people--and suddenly the ram pleaded to take Isaac's place. But the ram was beloved by the angels, who refused to let it go, and the ram cried out, "The future must be saved!" and in a single leap it bounded from the Garden and vaulted off a bridge of stars and hurtled through space to the mountaintop near Abraham, and called to him in a human voice not to slaughter his son. Three angels flew after the ram to bring it back, but the ram deliberately entangled its horns in the thicket and they couldn't release it ..." Ben says "The boy was crying for the ram?""And because he thought that he was the ram.""He?""He, we, all of us were the ram." [Jews in Germany]...Ben "If all of you were the ram, who was Isaac?""I asked him that.""And he said?""The civilized people of the world."A harrowing and beautiful tale and one that gets only intense set in that context. "He read splendidly at his bar mitzvah and gave a talk describing the ram, its beauty and wisdom, its self-sacrifice to save the future of Creation ... Four days later, he was shipped to Auschwitz, where they killed him right away."The fellow historian says to the Ben:"Every story is some kind of explanation, which explains why I dislike stories ... I became a historian so I would not have to explain anything, only recount the evidence, the facts."There is always a considerable amount to chew on in Potok's writing. And that doesn't even deal with the actual plot of the stories.

  • Leah G
    2019-04-14 15:19

    Ilana Davita Dinn is a character, but actually she is a literary device to tie together three completely separate stories so that they can pretend to be one book. She only plays a significant role in the first story.The first story was pretty good, about Ilana Davita teaching English to a young boy who survived the Holocaust. It shows the complete lack of understanding of American Jews in the immediate Post-war years towards what these survivors went through. Ilana Davita knows he is the only survivor from his entire town, yet whenever he mentions anyone from his past, she'll ask him, "Oh, what happened to him?" You'd think after a while she'd realize the choices were "shot in the forest" or "sent to Auschwitz" but no, she is an idiot and she keeps asking and doesn't understand the pain on his face. I kind of hated her after a while.The second story would have been interesting if I hadn't already read Darkness at Noon. it is the exact same story only told from a different point of view but with less insight and less thoughtfulness. If you want to understand Soviet Russia and the arbitrary way people were arrested and tortured, including former elites, in the Stalinist era, read Darkness at Noon, not this.The third story was just weird. An old man who is oddly fixated on Ilana Davita, who is now old and his neighbor, he watches her stalkerishly and fantasizes about her even as he takes care of his own dying wife. It was creepy. His story started out interesting, as he prepares for his bar mitzva with a "trope" teacher (that should be spelled tropp that's not how it is pronounced!) who survived WWI with the boy's father. He is smelly and mysterious and the boy grows to appreciate him. Many secrets are hinted at which kept me reading but they are never explained! He goes to Europe in WWII as a soldier, and while fighting he searches for his old teacher and ends up being kind of haunted by him. But you never find out what really happened to the old teacher, his relationship to the boy's father, what really went on in the war. I was left feeling like the whole story was a waste of time. A bad note to end the book on. Not a big fan, though Potok writes well. This was the first book of his that I read, and I suspect I made a bad choice.

  • Zuzana Schalek
    2019-04-20 12:47

    Moje prvé stretnutie s Chaimom Potokom. Ani jedna poviedka nestratí zbytočne ani minútu čitateľovho času. Túto knihu má zmysel prečítať. Pre mňa najsilnejší bol príbeh číslo 1. Druhý bol desivo reálny. Tretí, s prvkami tajomna, dodal silnú bodku za knihou. Hoci niektorých by viac potešila čiarka. Kniha však končí. Je to proste tak. A bodka.-- A chlapec sa nedal utíšiť. Opýtal som sa ho prečo plače a on odpovedal, že si spomenul na príbeh o Baránkovi, ktorý mu kedysi povedal jeho strýko Jakob.„O čom?“„O zvierati, ktoré obetovali namiesto Izáka. O baránkovi.“Benjamin Walter celkom zreteľne pocítil, ako mu na plecia ktosi položil ťažké dlane a teraz ním lomcuje na všetky strany.„Opýtal som sa ho, čo mu strýko povedal, že ho to tak rozplakalo a on odpovedal: Baránok pochádza z nebeskej záhrady Eden Bolo to nádherné zviera so zlatou vlnou a vznešenou hlavou. Rovnako, ako bola kedysi rajská záhrada tu na zemi, povedal strýko Jakob, je aj jedna na nebi. Anjeli a zvieratá tam žijú v mieri. Toho dňa sa všetci v Záhrade pozerali, ako Abrahám priväzuje Izáka k obetnému oltáru na zem a zdalo sa im, že od tých chvíľ závisí celá budúcnosť – smrťou Izáka a vymretím židovského národa sa iste zmení všetko Stvorenie – keď zrazu predstúpil Baránok a žiadal, aby sa mohol obetovať namiesto Izáka. Lenže anjeli Baránka milovali a odmietli ho pustiť a Baránok zvolal: „Budúcnosť treba zachrániť!“ a jediným skokom sa zniesol zo Záhrady a zviezol sa po hviezdnom moste a skĺzol vesmírom až na vrchol hory k Abrahámovi a zvolal naňho ľudským hlasom, aby ušetril svojho syna. Traja anjeli za ním leteli, aby ho priviedli naspäť, ale Baránok sa rohami úmyselne zaplietol do húšťavy a anjeli ho nedokázali vyslobodiť a on opäť volal na Abraháma, ktorý odviazal Izáka a vyplietol Baránkovi rohy z krovia a obetovali ho miesto Izáka.“„Chlapec plakal pre toho baránka?“„A aj preto, lebo si myslel, že on sám je tým baránkom.“„On?“„On. My všetci sme tým Baránkom.“„Ako prišiel na takú myšlienku?“„Bol to veľmi múdry chlapec.“ --

  • Mark
    2019-04-20 10:30

    This apparently was Potok's last book. It really is three novellas or long short stories stitched together. The common theme: recapturing memories, in particular of Jews who were victimized in the Second World War.The tales are held together by an enigmatic woman, whom we first see as a high school student who is tutoring a teen-age survivor of the concentration camps in English. A talented artist, the young man slowly yields up a story of his small village in Poland and the rabbi who enlisted the young men in repainting the lush foliage and creatures that decorated the inside of their wooden synagogue, right before everyone in the village but him was killed off by the Nazis.In the second story, she is a college student and is asked to accompany a famous Russian defector during a campus visit. She encourages him to tell his story and he then mails her his brief but chilling memoirs of his time as a KGB interrogator and why he fled the Soviet Union.In the last story, she is a mature and well-regarded author who moves next door to an aging military historian whose wife is dying and who is struggling to write his memoirs. With her encouragement over coffee and donuts, he begins to dredge up memories he had buried of a New York boyhood and being taught Torah by a strange, shambling man who was his father's best friend, a man who suddenly decided to move back to Europe after the Nazis took power, knowing what fate held in store.Of the three, I found the middle story of the interrogator to be the most gripping, partly because Potok describes the purges and interrogations and paranoia of Stalin in such a matter of fact way, and partly because he brings to light the anti-Semitism that was an integral part of the terror.A fine book with a master's sure touch, and particularly of interest to those who care about Holocaust fiction.

  • Shannon
    2019-03-21 14:40

    I wouldn't call it Potok's best. One thing I do enjoy is the continuation of character lines throughout his different novels; Davita is back! I was so charmed by this intuitive, inquisitive child in Davita's Harp (which nodded to a pre-Chosen Reuven Malter!), that it was a treat to see her as a high school grad prepping for her studies at Columbia University. The Ark Builder is fascinating; it celebrates the tradition of the Covenant, of preserving the story of the past for the young, the future generation (as depicted in Noah's drawings of his home for Davita's kid sister Rachel). This is also echoed in Noah's memory of the rabbi painting the ark, a prominent figure in Jewish history, embodying the faith and relationship of Creator and man.The War Doctor is an enriching piece of historical fiction, taking us into the mindset of a Jew, NOT as a victim, but as a KGB. We see a Communist in a different form, contrasting the typical Orwell-style monster from the restricting government form; instead, it's a result of the politics, the monstrosities of war and leadership from the White Army, that formed this man, and drove him to the things he has done.Was not impressed, however, with the final short story. It is interesting to see Davita as a middle-aged woman, but it reminded me strongly of Barbara Kingsolver's novel Prodigal Summer. For those who have read the book and recall the characters Garnett Walker and Nannie, you'll understand my distaste for this final story.

  • Maggie Anton
    2019-03-25 16:30

    I had a real problem with this book, or rather this set of 3 novella. I'm not going to detail each one; the many other reviews do that well. I admit the problem is partly with me. I'm not a fan of Holocaust stories and I like my novels to provide a happy, or at least satisfying, ending.The first story, despite its Holocaust theme, was my favorite. I enjoyed catching up with Davita after all these years and watching how she helped the boy find a voice to tell his tale of woe. Due to its subject, a Russian ex secret police torturer, I merely skimmed the second story. It appeared as excellently written as Potok usual works, but I had nothing but disgust for the protagonist and wanted nothing to do with his tale. The third story, which according to the Readers Guide was written a decade before the others, was so confusing and weird that I read it 3 times and still couldn't figure out what was going on. Again the protagonist was unlikable, and the plot, if you could call it that, did not engage me. The mysterious changing appearance of I.D. Chandal was disconcerting, especially as it was never explained, and I found the sexual aspects disturbing as well as unnecessary to the narrative.Chaim Potok died only a year after this book came out, so maybe that excuses its dark and despairing focus. All those readers who gave this book 4 and 5 stars obviously saw something in it that I didn't. Yes it was well written and had great descriptions, but the subject matter did not deserve such efforts.

  • Rebecca
    2019-04-03 17:31

    Although Davita from 'Davita's Harp' is in this book she is not actually the focus of the book. It comprises three stories told her by three men. Potok waxes more literary in this book than he does in the others that I've read. I am not a fan of literary fiction, so it was less likeable to me for that reason. However for people who love literary fiction, this would be a good choice. It got two stars from me because of personal taste, not from the writing. The writing was exceptional, as is usual with Potok and even though I didn't particularly like the book I couldn't put it down, which attests to the quality of the writing. I found the first two stories to be more spare than what Potok usually does and there is a great deal of stream of conscious going on in the second one in particular. The third story builds in layers like his full length novels do and all three are deceptively simple. As usual there is a lot more going on than what we are reading on the surface. For those looking for a squeaky clean read I would steer clear of this. It deals a great deal with war and the holocaust in sometimes disturbing ways. There is some foul language especially at the end and sexual references.

  • Michael
    2019-03-21 14:24

    This consisted of three novellas. Potok is an excellent writer to study if you are interested in literature as an entertaining and powerful means of culture war. Not that I agree with his worldview, but he fights for his faith with his pen in a way that is instructive. He has a lot of similarities to Marilynne Robinson in that regard and I wonder how much he has influenced her directly.The second story, The War Doctor, was the most interesting. The first story I'd give 3 stars, the second 4 stars and the third 2 stars. The third story, The Trope teacher, was just too shadowy and complex even though I loved some episodes in it and the character of Mr. Zapiski. The use of I.D. Chandal as a catalyst to tell the stories did not always work. It seemed completely unnecessary in the second piece and too confusing in the third. I.E. is she the ram? Or is the memory of his trope teacher the ram? Why did she sometimes appear as she really was and sometimes as an attractive middle aged women? Furthermore, was Ben the Amalekite-type traitor since he abandoned the faith and its war to fight as a secular humanist? The recounting of Ben's childhood sounded a lot like Asher Lev to me; the character's insight as a boy was very similar.

  • Heather
    2019-03-30 17:28

    I have been a fan of Potok's work since my junior year in high school, when my American Lit teacher assigned us The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev. Potok's prose is understated and beautiful, and his stories are full of depth and struggle that make them very human. This new collection of novellas is no exception. One character unifies the stories, but each story's narrator is a different character. In this collection, one learns more about Russia's involvement in World War II, and what happened to their Jewish population after the war. It is not a piece of history I knew much about, and the story that deals with it the most, the middle story, was quite compelling. A book definitely worth the read.

  • Dree
    2019-04-08 16:42

    This is the first Potok book I have ever read, though I have been meaning to read one for...decades?! I found this on my library's popular fiction shelf and went for it.I enjoyed this book, found it fascinating, and feel I learned quite a lot--especially from the first two stories. This book was heading to a solid 4-star rating for me. But I found the last story to be just confusing. Why does he see this woman as middle-aged (as she is) through windows, but sees her as younger and healthier when speaking to her? What is the significance of the nearby cemetery? What does his sightings of Mr Zapiski mean? I just found ti very confusing and a little to ghost-storyish for my taste.I do look forward to trying more of Potok's work, however.

  • WF Boey
    2019-04-08 13:22

    I found The Chosen and The Promise very powerful novels, but feel slightly let down by this. I don't think having Davita narrate the first story worked very well. I don't think female narrators is Potok's strength. I feel a lot of empathy for the boy in the first story, but don't feel much for the other men, and don't find the way Davita draws their stories out very convincing. Given the date of publication and the date of the author's death, this is probably an unfinished book that could have done with much more revision.

  • Stephani
    2019-03-23 18:38

    The book was separated into three sections. The first was a story of a Jewish boy who was the sole survivor of his village during the Holocaust. The second was a story of a Jewish KGB officer. The third story was of an elderly Jewish professor who was attempting to write his memoirs. I found the first section fascinating. The second section was an interesting insight into the KGB. However, this book receives a single star because of the third section. Within a few pages it became so suggestive that I had to stop reading it, I felt it was inappropriate. I was vastly disappointed.

  • Mays
    2019-04-14 14:35

    I went in to this book with great expectations; I hadn't read Potok before, but I just thought this book would be good. Sadly, it was not. The first short story was OK, the others were just plain boring. As I was reading this, I found myself always hoping that something good or exciting would come. It didn't. His descriptions of the environment are sometimes well-written and almost drags you into this book, but they are a rare view in this book. Every 40 pages or so, I did find something good that he had written. Sadly, that was all forgotten by the all the 'empty pages' in this book.