Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Death be not proud

I did not have any idea that it was a gem of a book that I had picked up from that second hand shop.  "Death be not proud"  as the name suggests deals with death and ought to leave the reader emotionally drained and depressed towards the end, but that is not the case.  As the author, John Guther Sr. himself says - "There are other criteria for measuring a life as well as its duration, quality, intensity.  But for us there is no compensation, except that we can go to him though he cannot come to us.  For others, I would say that it was his spirit and only his spirit that kept him alive against such dreadful obstacles for so long - this is the central pith and substance of what I am trying to write as a mournful tribute not only to Johny but to the power, the wealth, the unconquerable beauty of human spirit, will and soul."

For people who love books, this will be a great read, a book which will set you thinking about the ingenuity of human spirit and the great gift that ever day brings along.

SYNOPSIS:  This is the story of John Gunther Jr. who was diagnosed with a malignant tumor of brain and given only weeks to live.  He not only did fight it out for 15 months, but completed his class assignments without attending classes, received his diploma along with his classmates, undergoing all the formalities including a quarter mile walk to church on the day of convocation.  (This is a boy who had just turned 17 and was losing his left side strength and functions).  In the meantime, between the heavily straining operations, he found to communicate with Albert Einstein on "Unified field theory," had serious discussions with the doctors regarding the tumor, the tests, the results and also brought a smile to the face of everyone who came in touch with him, from the liftman to the nurses, doctors, barber, not to forget other patients.

Let me finish this post with Johny's prayer.

                                          Unbeliever's prayer
Almighty God
Forgive me for my agnosticism
For I shall try to keep it gentle, not cynical
nor a bad influence
And O!
if thou are truly in the heaven
accept my gratitude
for all thy gifts
and I shall try
to fight the good fight.

~ John Gunther Jr
May 1946.

NOTE:  This post was written in February 2007 while I was working in Coimbatore. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Chosen

"The Chosen" is a book written by American Jewish Rabbi Chaim Potok.  Since the writer is a rabbi, the book deals extensively with Jewish culture, and one would come across a lot of words particular to this religion.  But what makes this book great is the captivating story that it unfolds.

The story has got 2 protagonists, Reuven Malters, who is also the narrator, an orthodox Jew and Danny Saunders, a Hasidic Jew (Hasidic sect are very very conservative).  Reuven's father, David Malter is a teacher, religious scholar with a scientific and secular outlook, whereas Danny's father Reb. Isaac Saunders is the head of Hasidic sect and comes across as a religious fanatic who is quite angry with David Malter for propagating his secular and scientific outlook as well as later for actively supporting  Zionism.

This is the story of friendship that develops between Reuven and Danny despite their basic differences over several issues.  Reuven is an extrovert, who is brilliant in mathematics and is a good student of Talmud, whereas Danny is an introvert, who takes a lot of time to open up and possesses photographic memory and is very much ahead of Reuven as far as Talmud learning is concerned.

The story is full of conflicts.  There is this conflict of ideas between David Malter (Reuven's father) and Reb. Isaac Saunders (Danny's father).  There is also this conflict between Judaism and the secular American world as both Orthodox and Hasidic Jews are immigrants trying to fit into liberal and secular American culture.  There is conflict between Danny and his father as Danny does not want to occupy the position of patriarch of Hasidic sect, which usually the eldest son of the leader inherits, instead he wants to study psychoanalysis and do research on it.  There is conflict of ideas between Reuven and Danny due to their difference in upbringing.

In spite of carrying so much contrast and conflict, this also is a beautiful story of friendship between 2 boys, and later 2 young men (as the boys grow up), also this is a story of 2 fathers who love their sons in entirely different ways.

This book gave me an insight into Judaism as well as a peak into Jewish mind in the aftermath of World war II and the Holocaust and is certainly the best book that I have read in 2011 and will certainly count it as one among my favorites.