The Chosen (1981)

Film reviews are subjective. I tend to rate films not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Chosen (1981) from Chosen Film Company
Rated PG. (Contains some disturbing Holocaust footage.) Drama, Faith Theme, Historical

Description (from the film case): Set in 1940s Brooklyn, The Chosen is the story of two teenage boys who become best friends despite huge differences in their upbringing. Danny (Robby Benson) is the son of an orthodox Hasidic Rabbi (Rod Steiger). Reuven (Barry Miller) comes from a progressive Jewish family whose father (Maximilian Schell) stands at the forefront of the battle for Israeli statehood. Danny’s every moment is devoted to religious study, while Reuven plays jazz piano and is intensely interested in changing the world around him. Their family differences soon force both to make difficult choices.

My thoughts: A film based on one of my all-time favorite books.

Although politics are a passionate part of the story, I don’t like it for the politics. (You know, sometimes I almost hate to use the word, for its connotations. It can be easy to minimize or brush off a complex and crucial human issue by saying it’s “just politics.”)

Anyhow. I like this story for the way it portrays how there are differences within groups, behind the broad labels. “I thought you people only studied Talmud.” You people. One Jewish young man speaking to another.

I like this story for its reflection of fathers and sons. Of friendship. “It is not easy to be a friend.” Especially when your friend is someone you don’t understand.

Reuven has an appropriate level of understatement, Danny has an appropriate level of strangeness. Now, what hit me as the most powerful scene in the book didn’t need as severe a close-up as the film generously gives it. But it still has its own power onscreen, and I can otherwise forgive the moment’s over-generosity for being a product of 1980s filmmaking.

A compelling coming of age story indeed.

My corresponding reading: The Chosen by Chaim Potok.

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I’m not a super-fan of the trailer, but, hey. Maybe it’s also “1980s forgivable.” 🙂

 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

A young girl, Liesel, in Nazi Germany, with stolen books as her prized possessions. Her foster family, secretly, illegally sheltering a Jew. Life, Death, and the power of words meet in The Book Thief, a novel by author Markus Zusak.

I picked up a copy of the film based on this book, but I didn’t want to watch it without reading the original story first. So I read it.

I stopped reading for a while, toward the middle of it. Stopped, sighed, and wept after reading about Liesel reading one of her books, one she didn’t steal. I guess the rest of my weeping during a number of other scenes was just more of a deep, inward groan.

There were also parts that made me smile, and times when I had to pause and shake my head at some of the brilliant turns of phrase that fill this novel: ironic, ominous, and beautiful turns by turns.

Having already caught snatches of praise in the wind about this book, I did my best not to hear too much more before I read it, since a book’s wide acclaim doesn’t guarantee that I’ll personally love it. And, honestly, it’d be one thing for an author to use tragic themes from World War II and the Holocaust and to merely write a grim, sad novel, as grimness and sadness alone aren’t enough to make a novel resonate with me.

But to tell a raw, nuanced, layered, crushing, bittersweet, and haunting story that affirms life even in the midst of death… That’s something else. That resonates.

A singular work, this is.

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Note to my blog readers: along with depictions of wartime violence, this book contains a moderate amount of profanity.

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Shortly after I finished the novel, I did indeed watch the film.

 

The Christmas Blessing by Melody Carlson

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

The Christmas Blessing by Melody Carlson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Amelia and her fiancé James had planned to marry right away, but she hears that he’s been killed in the war, shot down with his plane. Hence, Amelia can’t legally claim the benefits of a war widow, even when she gives birth to James’s child, Jimmy. With nowhere else to turn, Amelia seeks out James’s parents–even though they don’t know that she and Jimmy exist in The Christmas Blessing by author Melody Carlson.

I’ve enjoyed a few World War II Christmas novellas in the past. Without reading much of the blurb for this one, I took a gander at the soft, Christmassy book cover and decided to check it out.

I think this story has much that fans of nostalgic WWII fiction will enjoy. The plot is serious, but not too heavy, and the holiday theme is strong. Except for the very end, which may be somewhat rushed, I found the pacing to be steady, even a bit slow at points, as characters stop to think or re-think things over maybe a little more than necessary. However, I can appreciate a complete tale on the shorter side that doesn’t hurry through or skimp on all the important parts.

There’s some “info-dumping” in the opening conversation, and although it’s not unrealistic for a woman in Amelia’s position to cry a lot, her sobbing loses some of its effect on the page when it happens over and over. Also, I hope this isn’t something widely common that I’m just starting to notice in general now, but it seems that far too many sentences in the story begin with the word “And,” until it feels monotonous. I’m not sure if this issue appears in the final version of the book; I read an ARC.

Overall, it was refreshing to find a holiday tale that wasn’t completely predictable to me, and I think many other ChristFic readers will like this one.

 

Child of the River by Irma Joubert

historical-books-4

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. BookLook Bloggers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

child-of-the-riverChild of the River by Irma Joubert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

They were fighting for survival, she knew. Because their complexions were dark, their religion considered heathen, their traditions unfamiliar.
Had she been foolish to take on this battle?

Growing up as a poor, white daughter of sharecroppers in South Africa during World War II, it seems that Pérsomi will have few options in life. When an unexpected chance at education opens up to her, it brings her into a new world of possibilities. But at this time of heightening social unrest in her country, her new world may be a difficult place to make a difference in Child of the River, a novel by author Irma Joubert.

Pérsomi is an intelligent heroine full of quiet yearning, and my favorite parts of the story are when her simple, unlikely courage comes to the fore. She has a heart for seeking justice, and for better or for worse, that heart is put to the test in the face of apartheid. Also, as I’ve read a number of novels that deal with WWII, it was interesting to observe some effects of the war from Pérsomi’s part of the globe.

However, when it came to much of her personal life, I found the novel pretty hard to read. Yes, any strong story needs some sort of believable conflict, challenge, or adversity from which to create a plot. But when a book starts to feel like a downer overall, it usually isn’t my cup of tea. It seems this story goes from generally sober, then to gloomy, and then to downright depressing, without enough moments of light or fire to balance it out for me. Once I reached the end of the book, I wasn’t quite sure if the conclusion was a natural outcome or if it was something to placate me, more or less, after all the gloom.

Still, admiring and relating to this flawed but able heroine kept me intrigued enough to stick with her story.