Frequently Asked Questions
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Was The Chosen the original name of the book?
Apparently not. In the fall 1966 issue of American Judaism is a story entitled The Cats of 37 Alfasi Street by Chaim Potok. The editorial statement about the author is as follows: "editor for the Jewish Publication Society of America. His novel A Space for Silence, will be published in the spring of 1967 by Simon and Schuster."
Was Potok in the movie "The Chosen?"
Were The Chosen and The Promise originally written as a single work and then divided?
In a chapter for Studies in American Jewish Literature, number 4 (1985), edited by Daniel Walden, Potok writes, "For the record: The Promise was not the second half of The Chosen. All of it was written after The Chosen was published. In a closet in my home there are about eleven hundred pages of discarded typescript that went into writing the first fifty-some-odd pages of The Promise. For many reasons, almost all of the technical, that was an especially difficult book to write. The parts of The Chosen that my editor and I cut from the original manuscript have not been and never will be published." (p. 100-101)
Much writing has an autobiographical aspect. With which character in his books does Potok most closely identify himself?Asher Lev -- In response to a question from Jerry Gladson
A copy of the painting is included in the section of this website entitled "Chaim Potok the Artist." (It was still on the wall when I visited Mrs. Potok in July of 2003)
In Elaine Kauvar's interview Potok says, "My Characters tend to be loners, and they tend to be alienated intellectually. To be entirely candid about it, they are extensions of my own being, because I grew up very much involved in the world of the mind, and in the worlds of art and literature. Each of these characters, with the exception of Davita, is really, I suppose, a different aspect of myself and a reflection of my fundamental interests."
Norwegian student Tonje Viken asks, "Were the novels about Asher Lev in any way inspired by the life of the painter Marc Chagall?"
Here's a partial answer.
In Davita's Harp, Davita was denied academic honors in favor of a male. Is this true to life?
It happened to Adena Potok! -- In response to a question at Southern College and mentioned in an interview with Barry Vogel for Radio Curious, February 1997.
Does the Potok home have a door harp?
Yes, in fact, two. -- Mentioned in an interview with Barry Vogel for Radio Curious, February 1997.
How does one interpret the symbols in Davita's Harp?
Note the following quotation found in Elaine Kauver's interview with Potok in Contemporary Literature XXVII (1986). "Davita's Harp is about the utilization of the human imagination as a way of coming to terms with unbearable reality. Every time Davita confronts something unbearable, she restructures it through the power of imagination. Finally at the end of the novel when she suffers this terrible indignity, she restructures the graduation ceremony by having her uncle, her father, and her aunt there along with everything that she has imagined. All the metaphors of her imagination are present in the last scene--the birds, the horses, the sea, the cabin. So you have this seesawing back-and-forth between reality that's unbearable and the imagination that tries to rethink reality."
Is I Am the Clay a rewriting of Potok's first unpublished novel?It is not.
Michael Cusick writes, "In my interview he told me that he had to write Wanderings before he wrote Book of Lights in order for him to know his roots as a Jew. Knowing his roots as a Jew then allowed him to know his roots as an American and how that fact conflicted with the reality of Korea. In his words, Book of Lights is a look at Asian culture from without, and I Am the Clay was written from within Asian culture, as a follow up to both The Book of Lights and Wanderings."
Does Potok have any plans to write novels continuing the stories of individuals previously introduced?
In a personal communication to Andy S, Potok writes, "Yes, I hope to continue the story of Ilana Davita and to finish the story of Asher Lev."
What were the early literary influences on Potok?
Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man.