The novels of Chaim Potok typically concern themselves with conflicts between worldviews, usually as represented by the American Orthodox Jewish tradition and aspects of the secular world. Davita’s Harp is the story of a girl’s search for balance—between practicality and idealism, between the inner self and the outer environment. Davita’s parents are intelligent people who have rejected their respective religions and become passionately dedicated to Communism. Davita describes in detail the Communist Party meetings that the Chandals hold in a succession of tenement apartments, apartments that they are regularly forced to leave by unsympathetic landlords.
Amid the instability of Davita’s physical environment, two objects stay constant: a picture on her parents’ bedroom wall of three white horses, and a door harp hung on the front door of whatever apartment they call home. Davita looks at the picture often, feeling that she is almost able to enter into the scene. She also loves to listen to the sounds of the harp whenever the door is opened or closed. To Davita, it rings the most gentle and sweetest of tones.
Eight-year-old Davita, a precocious child with a rich inner life, is growing up in turbulent times. Her main outer influence is her parents’ politics. She often falls asleep at night to the sound of impassioned voices talking about dialectic materialism, tools of production, capitalists, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler. Although her parents do not talk about the religions they have abandoned, Davita learns about them both. She learns about Christianity from her aunt, Sarah Chandal; she learns about Orthodox Judaism from her neighbors, the Helfmans, and from Ezra and David Dinn. She learns about the power of the imagination from Jakob Daw, a noted leftist writer and family friend. Jakob tells Davita about the search for truth; the images he uses in his stories come from deep within his heart and lodge at a correspondingly deep level within Davita’s own.
Eventually, Michael’s newspaper sends him to cover the war in Spain, Channah becomes absorbed in Party activities, and Davita is left essentially on her own. She follows the Helfmans to the local synagogue and starts to...
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