I finished Chaim Potok’s Davita’s Harp last weekend and loved it. I read it in less than a week, which is a big commitment to the 5% of free time I have left at the end of every day.
The entire book is from the perspective of Ilana Davita Chandal, who is around eight years old during The Depression when the story begins. Her father is Christian and her mother is Jewish, though neither practice their religions, and are actually very anti-religious. They find religion blinds people to the truth around them.
As the story unfolds, it’s fascinating to view world events and complex human relationships and emotions through the perspective of this girl. She is describing things as they are happening, but without the wisdom or experience to interpret them, which leaves the reader putting clues together as to what’s happening.
She tries to piece together her parents’ political views, their religious backgrounds, and their family history. At times her presence in the family takes a back seat to the ideologies of her parents, and always she feels different around other kids whose parents are more “normal.”
Davita is of strong character and asks tough questions (“But why aren’t girls aloud to pray the kaddish?”). I am drawn to stories of children with strong character, like the boy in Duma, and the girl in Pan’s Labyrinth. I did not have strength of character as a child. I did not ask tough questions. I did not cling to strong convictions.
I followed. I worried what people would think. I avoided confrontation.
My daughter has strength, and she asks really tough questions – the kind of questions that make me uncomfortable because I don’t always know the answers. It remains to be seen whether she will be a follower or a leader, but she is most definitely curious and exploring.
I love stories about children like my Ruthie, because it helps me to appreciate and cultivate her tenacity. In watching Duma I saw spunk in a different light. In watching Pan’s Labyrinth I saw bravery and sharp thinking in a different light. In reading Davita’s Harp, I saw questions in a different light.
Davita asks questions. She is curious about words and their meanings. She wants to know about things the grown-ups are talking about. She questions tradition, but not in a rebellious way. She truly wants to know why things are the way they are because she desires to participate.
As is usual for a Chaim Potok book, Davita’s Harp is rich with Jewish culture and tradition. I read The Chosen, In the Beginning, and My Name is Asher Lev in college, and this book did not disappoint my love for his writing and ability to see the world through the eyes of a child.