The thread between Chaim Potok, Willa Cather, and me
Your phrase, "every place has its own genius, and it is the work of the artist to bring this secret into the light," inspires me. Thank you.
I was an English Major at a snobby college. Now that I look back, it really gave me very little. Perhaps four years in a beautiful nature environment. A bit of finding myself and my talent for writing. No real way to make a living! Not even a teaching degree (the snobs)!
The best thing about it was spending my junior year in Israel and discovering my Jewish heritage. Now I am a fully observant Jew, a grandmother of a whole slew of observant Jewish children and grandchildren. (I also read Chaim Potok s a child and never realized that I , too, was a member of that tribe, with all of its glorious customs and its way of life).
I hope you didn’t give up that part of yourself. It’s the best part of yourself. The Torah Jew.
Thanks for this piece. I'm always grateful for your insights. One small argument I'd make is that I think Alexander Payne's movies make the same point that you're making here. His stories are always about ordinary (and ordinary-looking) people in ordinary places facing the biggest questions in life. In "Nebraska" the father and son drive to Mount Rushmore, but the real connection to the past happens in the abandoned farmhouse where the father recalls witnessing the death of his brother. The father is dreaming of a lottery win that will be his legacy to his sons, and ignoring everything else he has to give them. And the son who takes care of his father has already gained something beyond any financial prize. I'd say that, like Cather, Payne observes that we think that real life is happening somewhere else, somewhere more glamorous and important, when in fact we're right in the middle of the drama.
very good piece, i especially like the line about literature being the cord that binds us together, although in this techy age looking at my children curled up with their iphones - i wonder if the written word will bow down to the spoken word once again.... if this broken world is going to come together, you're right words and story are needed, but flesh and blood also . Anyway you've had some very good pieces lately, I meant to comment but got hung up on something....I too loved the chaim potok book as a child, it has a softness to it that is unique. my father had a book club for 30 years. they did the chosen and invited potok to the meeting... he wrote back that he would come, provided he got picked up in a ..... black limousine.... no white, only black.... just a weird sidenote about potok. I dont think they got the black limousine....