The Book of Lights
Synopsis: from the dust jacket
Writing at the highest emotional level--and with the power to evoke our deepest responses that has made all his novels, beginning with The Chosen , acclaimed and cherished--Chaim Potok now gives us his most ambitious work of fiction, his most moving vision of the dreams and the dilemma of the moral man.
At the center of the novel is Gershon Loran--a young rabbi, the product of a parochial New York Jewish upbringing--whose early life seems to have been shaped by darkly irrational circumstances. He has, since boyhood, been impelled to turn away from "a strangely terrifying world" and inward, toward a place in himself from which his first vision arises when he is sixteen. It is a moment of such profound relief that he lives from then on in the anticipation of its return. But his waiting takes the form of passivity, and, though he is responsible and successful, he expresses no joy, no rage, no exultation, no pain. These emotions--all emotion--Gershon seems to reserve for his visions, which grow more frequent, more complex, and more important to him as he is irresistibly drawn to the study of the Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah.
It is this young man--raised in the absolute belief that "the Jewish religion made a fundamental difference in the world"--who, at the end of the Korean War, finds himself a chaplain in a country where Judaism has played no part, has had no reality, has never existed. In this "pagan" land, Gershon begins to see his own people--and himself--in a new light as the secure, enclosed life he has always led begins to dissolve into unreality and doubt. And he is further shaken when his seminary friend Arthur Leiden, a great physicist's son, arrives in Korea, his own faith in Judaism deeply imperiled by his anguish over his father's part in the creation of the atomic bomb. Joining his friend on a pilgrimage of expiation to Japan, Gershon discovers yet another land untouched by Judaism, a land that nevertheless seems to him to be made of pure light--the light he has glimpsed before only in Kabbalah. Here, Gershon has the most disturbing and revelatory of his visions--encompassing both light and dark, both good and evil, just as life must; just as, he begins to understand, Judaism must, if it is to remain a living faith.
It is the give of The Book of Lights that, in scene after moving scene, it radiates light, letting us feel ourselves in touch with the religious impulse, with the mysterious heart-lifting magic of Kabbalah itself. Taking us into the life of a man confounded by his own times, the novel reveals through him not only the uncertainties and angers of the generation of Jews that came of age in the radically altered America of post--World War II, but also the tumults and perils of the eternal search for moral certitude, and the illumination that can, perhaps, reward the questioning and courageous mind, the open and generous heart.