Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Review: Davita's Harp by Chaim Potok

1 of 5 for the Jewish Literature Challenge
1 of 5 for the War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge

genre: fiction/Jewish Literature
rating: 5/5

When we meet Ilana Davita she is around 8 years old, in the late 1930s. She lives in New York City with her writer-activist parents in a non-religious household. The subject for which her parents have nearly radical zeal is, we learn through Davita's listening in to conversations and nightly meetings, communism. Her parent's decisions and activism, their friends and political struggles lie at the heart of Davita's young life - they move frequently and her nights are spent in a strange dream of "Spain" and "Fascism."

Before I read this book I had no sense that the second World War played such a vital role within the context of the story, and the communist movement within America at the start of the war is a perspective I have never read about before. Davita's entire life is shaped by involvement of people she loves within the War - either first-hand or through political leanings that taint the reputation and limits one's freedom.

What I particularly loved about this book is Potok's firm grasp of a young child's voice - their understandings and misunderstandings. The entire tale is told from Davita's point of view and we often share her frustration as she understands that very important things are happening and all she can do is wait to be told or try to figure it out for herself.

The characters in this story are deep and vivid. I loved Davita's depth-less thirst for knowledge - about the meanings of words, about the war, and, eventually of Judaism and the Torah. Her decision to become religious on her own, despite her mother's disapproval, felt very real and was a thread throughout the book that I found particularly engaging. The other characters - her parents, the friends of her parents - and even Davita's own friends, never felt false or caricatured. Each person was flawed and yet full of different strengths that Davita used to help find her own way through the trauma of war and of growing up in a tumultuous time.

Davita's Harp is amazing, it has an almost mystical quality about it. The harp itself, which hangs on a door and is an omen of both good and bad - but mostly is a tinkling constant throughout her childhood, becomes a haven within the story-world that Davita retreats to when life becomes more than her imagination can handle. Because her world is sometimes incredibly harsh and confusing, her search for truth and good occasionally becomes a struggle against those she loves and respects the most.

This is a story of the uselessness of war, the truth that can be found between the lines of stories and the pages of books, the beauty and reality of Judaism and the reconciliation of a girl with the world that she was born into. A triumph.


Anonymous said...

I love a book told from a young child's point of view too and it's not always done well. I want to read this book now.

Sandra said...

Great review. I'm so glad you liked this story too. I loved it when it came out, I read each of Chaim Potok's books as he published them. They are all wonderful but this was the only one that had a young female protagonist and I thought it was terrific. I still have my copy, I should read it again. Thanks for reviewing an oldie but goodie.

Jeane said...

I love this book! I read most of Potok's novels when I was a teenager, and was so thrilled when I chanced upon Davita's Harp in a used bookstore. I loved that it was written from a girl's persepctive, and also that it included a character from his other books (wasn't David in it?)

Anna said...

The "mystical quality" you mention intrigues me. This sounds like a great book, and I enjoyed your review.

I created a post for your review here on War Through the Generations, and I posted a link on the book reviews page as well.

Diary of an Eccentric

Heather J. said...

I'm here through the WWII Challenge blog - this sounds very interesting - I'm intrigued by the fact that such complex topics are addressed only thru the child's perspective ... and that it is done successfully - that's an accomplishment for sure

erin sheely said...

Oh how I love this book. Potok has always been one of my favorite authors.

Okie said...

Thanks for a great review. I read my first Potok this past fall (My Name is Asher Lev) and I'm looking forward to trying out more of his books. His writing was very alive and intriguing to me. I hope I enjoy his other books as well.

holly said...

oh oh, I've read several of his other books, but not this one yet. thanks for reviewing it!

momster said...

I loved this book. Many of my reader friends have only read The Chosen. I think I read the entire Potok section of the library one right after the other:).

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