Davita's Harp

Synopsis: from the dust jacket

Davita's story begins in New York City in the 1930s. Her parents (her mother is Jewish, her father Gentile, both non-believing) have subsumed their radical different pasts in a shared dedication to Communism, and are raising their daughter to ignore the variousness of her background in favor of the passionately nurtured mixture of idealism and pragmatism that represents to them the sure road to international community. But Davita herself--possessed of exceptional sensitivity and intelligence even as a small child--perceives discord and disunity everywhere around her, and cannot be kept from seeing how her parents' ideals buckle under the hard realities of the world she's growing into. She sees people scorned and discriminated against because of their political alignments. She grows aware of the terrible disintegration of normal life in Europe under the influence of a few power-mad men. She understands from the stories she hears, first about the Spanish Civil War, then about World War II, that man is capable of unfathomable atrocities. . . .And then the effects of war sweep down on Davita herself, shattering the structure and strength of her family, undermining the last vestiges of her parents' fervent idealism, stealing from her the warmth and security her family has always given her.

But during these same years Davita is introduced--by her father's sister on one side, by a distant cousin on the other--to the religions of her parents, to the reasons they turned from them, and to the liberating idea that she can decide for herself what she does and does not believe. And she begins to make that decision: gravitating towards Judaism, its mysteries and rituals initially piquing her curiosity, then inspiring her devotion. Now, as her world seems to collapse around her, she can still draw comfort from religion, and a sense of community and belonging from its practice. . .until even this fails her when her trust, and her need, are betrayed by the barriers (literal and figurative) that exist between men and women in Orthodox Judaism.

Now Davita must find a way to go beyond her own pain and anger, beyond the sanctified words and walls to something larger, something she can carry in her heart, always. And now she begins to understand that is this something which she has sensed all along in the sound of the small harp that has hung on the front door of every apartment she's lived in--the one constant in her life, the sound that hints at "the decent music of the world," like faith in a faithless time, like her own profound ability to see that there is always a reason to go on.

In Davita's Harp, Chaim Potok brings to bear the insight and generosity that have informed all of his novels on a stirring and beautiful story about how we learn and use faith, how it can fail us, and how it can help us know ourselves--alone and as part of an often confounding world.

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