Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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Nissenson’s novel is one of salvation, a minor Jewish equivalent of
the novels of grace by Mauriac, Bernanos, and perhaps Dosto-
Nissenson spent some time on a Kibbutz and was in Israel at the
tail end of the ’67 War. In his
Notes from the Frontier
(1968) he
engaged in a type o f travel reportage to which only a good practi­
tioner of fiction can dojustice. He used some of his experiences in
the title story of
In the Reign ofPeace
(1972), a second and effective
collection of stories.
Considering that Chaim Potok’s novels have all been novels of
culture and ideas, their success has been nothing short of phe­
nomenal. He has eschewed the pitfalls of much fiction by rabbis,
especially in Europe. He does not preach. He may instruct in that
he vivifies ideas, pits one culture against another, one set of reli­
gious tenets against another, a solid religious upbringing in con­
flict with secular preoccupations. In the process Potok has not
always succeeded in keeping his characters fully alive. At times
they merely become ideas that speak and act. When his characters
slide into conflict, it is rarely over jealousy, power, greed or sex.
They part company over loyalty to concepts, practices, promises.
Whereas Potok has been exceptionally convincing in depicting
ways of life, wars of thought, even mystical and supernatural phe­
nomena, he is far less skilled in describing scenes of daily living,
or in reproducing natural dialogue. In fact, his dialogue is
undifferentiated — it usually sounds the same coming from the
mouths of all his characters.
In spite of these flaws, Potok has enjoyed a wide following
among different levels of readers. This is all the more remarkable
considering that this cultured, intelligent, scholar-novelist has
written the same novel several times, with just sufficient varia­
tions to make them seem fresh and vigorous with each new work.
Father-son relationships, sons attempting to break out of the
prefashioned mold, the Orthodox youngster attracted to profes­
sions like psychiatry or the visual arts, the parent who must even­
tually let go or settle for a loving compromise, sons ashamed of
the parental scientific contribution to the nuclear threat, another
trying to come to grips with mystic gifts — these are the uncom­
mon idea-character situations of a Potok novel. Yet there are
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