Ilana Davita Chandal’s life has been filled with uncertainty as well as with the love of her radically idealistic parents. Her journalist father Michael has been disowned by his patrician family both for his politics and his marriage to a Jewish woman. Her mother Channah bears the scars of a brutal pogrom and the senseless tragedies of World War I. The horrors of the twentieth century become Ilana’s when Michael is killed during the bombing of Guernica while covering the Spanish Civil War. Then Channah’s closest friend, Jacob Daw, because of his previous membership in the Communist Party, is deported to Adolf Hitler’s Europe, where he dies.
Although she does not abandon her parents’ idealism, Ilana needs something more. She first finds comfort in her Aunt Sarah’s Christianity. Later, however, she is attracted to the Orthodox Judaism of her mother’s youth. Channah’s remarriage to a religious cousin completes the family’s return to the Jewish world.
Potok has written several highly acclaimed novels about American-Jewish life, but he enters new territory when he explores the milieu of areligious Jewish radicals. This is also his first novel in which a young girl is the protagonist. In focusing on Ilana, Potok, who is an ordained rabbi, can also explore the role of women in traditional Judaism. He gives no easy answers. Ilana may be the school valedictorian, but because of her sex she is denied her school’s top prize. Nor does Potok allow the shelter of Judaism to eradicate the pain of Ilana’s...
(The entire section is 629 words.)