Chaim Potok The Promise

ISBN 13: 9780434596010

The Promise

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9780434596010: The Promise

"A superb mirror of a place, a time, and a group of people who capture our immediate interest and hold it tightly."
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
Young Reuven Malter is unsure of himself and his place in life. An unconventional scholar, he struggles for recognition from his teachers. With his old friend Danny Saunders--who himself had abandoned the legacy as the chosen heir to his father's rabbinical dynasty for the uncertain life of a healer--Reuvan battles to save a sensitive boy imprisoned by his genius and rage. Painfully, triumphantly, Reuven's understanding of himself, though the boy change, as he starts to aproach the peace he has long sought....

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Chaim Potok was born in New York City in 1929. He graduated from Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, was ordained as a rabbi, and earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He also served as editor of the Jewish Publication Society of America. Potok’s first novel, The Chosen, published in 1967, received the Edward Lewis Wallant Memorial Book Award and was nominated for the National Book Award. He is author of eight novels, including In the Beginning and My Name is Asher Lev, and Wanderings, a history of the Jews. He died in 2002.
From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One
The county fair was Rachel's idea. She had a passion for the theater, James Joyce, and county fairs, and she could be quite persuasive when it came to those three passions. We would go on the Sunday in the third week of August, the closing night of the fair, when there would be a fireworks display. We would have a splendid time, she said. It was also her idea that we take her cousin Michael.

It was warm that Sunday night and the sky was clear and filled with stars. We sat in the front seat of the DeSoto and Rachel drove carefully along the dark asphalt country roads. Michael sat quietly between us, staring out of the windshield. A moment after we reached the highway he suddenly became quite talkative. He chatted about his frogs and salamanders. He talked about Andromeda, white dwarfs, and red giants. He seemed to know a great deal about astronomy. He had a high, thin voice and he spoke animatedly and in a rushing flow of technical words. I saw Rachel smiling. She wore a yellow sleeveless summer dress and her short auburn hair blew in the warm wind that came through the open windows of the car.

We came to a crossroads, bright with the neon life of a night highway, then went around a sharp curve. Set into the darkness about an eighth of a mile away, and looking as though it had carved itself into the night, was the county fair. Michael abruptly ceased talking and leaned forward in the seat.

The fair lay stretched out upon a huge field alongside the highway, bathed in a blaze of electric lights and neon signs, with strings of bulbs across an entrance arch spelling out the word PARKING, and floodlights poking bright fingers into the black sky, and blurred gashes of colored lights from a moving Ferris wheel and parachute jump. The brightness formed a pale, smoky, faintly pink arc-shaped cloud over the entire area, sealing it off from the darkness beyond. In the center of the field was a roller coaster with strings of lighted bulbs following its tortuous contour.

Rachel parked the car and we came out onto the graveled surface of the parking lot and to a chain-link fence with a gate. We went through the gate and into the county fair.

The three of us were standing on an asphalt road that was jammed with people. Teen-agers jostled roughly through the crowd, children ran about wildly, young and old couples moved along or stood near booths playing carnival games. A thick din choked the air. I heard gongs, bells, rifle shots from a nearby shooting gallery, the music of a calliope, the whooshing roar of the roller coaster, and a steady waterfall of human noise. It seemed as if all the noise of the world's wide night had descended upon this one stretch of lighted earth.

"We're in the wrong place," I said to Rachel.

She stood alongside me on the asphalt road, her face pale in the garish lights. Michael was staring around wide-eyed at the booths.

"What did you do, take a wrong turn somewhere?" I was annoyed and I let my voice show it.

"No, I did not take a wrong turn somewhere."

"'What happened to your county fair?"

"It was advertised as a fair. You saw the poster. Annual county fair. In big red letters. You saw it too."

"I don't like carnivals," I said.

"Neither do I."

"What do you want to do?"

She looked around indecisively, chewing her lip. I saw her glance at Michael, who stood nearby staring at the roller coaster.

"Why don't we call up James Joyce and find out what he would do?" I said, feeling irritated and annoyed and wanting to get away from the noise and the wildness.

She gave me an angry look. "Don't be nasty," she said. "It isn't my fault."

"What do you want to do?"

"We'll see the exhibits and go right home."

"They've probably got three cows and two horses in a tent somewhere."

"We'll look and go right home. So it won't be a total waste. What gall to advertise this as a fair."

We found the tent. There were cows, horses, calves, pigs, roosters, hens, awkward paintings by local artists, and some prize-winning home-baked pies. The wooden floor of the tent was covered with sawdust, and the smell of animal droppings was very strong.

"I'm thrilled," I said. "You have no idea how thrilled I am to see rural America at its creative best."

"Don't be mean," Rachel said. But she was as angry as I was.

"I'm not mean. I'm thrilled."

"I've seen beautiful fairs."

"Let's go home," I said.

Michael stood a few feet away from us, looking curiously at a prize calf. He wore a rumpled white sport shirt, tan shorts, and an old pair of tennis sneakers with the laces untied. He had wild dark-brown hair that badly needed trimming and dreamy blue eyes behind shell-rimmed glasses that were too large for his narrow face.

We came out of the tent onto the black asphalt road of the carnival. Michael wanted to know where the other exhibits were.

"That's all there is," I told him. "We just saw the whole fair. It's a carnival. They stuck some animals in and called it a fair. But it's a carnival."

"We're going home now," Rachel said.

Michael stared at her, his mouth dropping open.

"Reuven and I don't like carnivals," Rachel said.

But Michael did not want to go home. Why should we go home just because it was a carnival? he wanted to know. What was wrong with carnivals? He and Rachel stood on the road, arguing. It seemed to me they argued a long time. Michael had a strong, stubborn, aggressive streak. In the end, Rachel yielded.

We walked along the crowded asphalt road through the litter of pop bottles, ice-cream wrappers, soiled paper bags, popsicle sticks, beer cans, discarded newspapers. The carnival booths lined both sides of the road, and from inside the booths pitchmen shouted their games to the crowd. Some booths were large, with expensive-looking prizes on their shelves; most were small shanty-like affairs, with gambling games or tossing games operated by hard-voiced carnival people some of whom wore derbies or straw hats. The booths were on wheels and were scarred and blotched from travel. The carnival had been set up in the form of a circle, with the booths lining both sides of the curving asphalt road, and the Ferris wheel, parachute jump, and roller coaster in the center.

We approached a ring-toss game operated by a short, double-chinned pitchman in a straw hat. He was chewing on a dead cigar and shouting automatically at the crowd. He took off the straw hat and wiped his bald head with a red handkerchief. There was no one at his booth. He put the handkerchief away and saw me looking at him. His voice focused itself directly upon us, and we were drawn reluctantly to the booth.

We played the ring-toss game twice. Then we went to another booth and played a pitching game. Michael played awkwardly. His glasses kept slipping down the bridge of his nose and he kept pushing them back up with abrupt motions of his hand. After the pitching game Rachel told him again that she wanted to go home but he ignored her and went on ahead, moving restlessly along the asphalt road. He was a thin, narrow-shouldered, gawky boy, about five inches shorter than my own five feet ten inches, and he seemed all caught up in the tumult around us.

So we continued along the asphalt road, playing the games and ignoring the freak shows. Even Michael did not want to see the freak shows. We fired rifles at wooden ducks, threw pennies into flat plates, tossed baseballs at fat-nosed clowns. Rachel won a charm bracelet from the penny-tossing game, and Michael came away from the fat nose of a clown with a pen and pencil set which he stuck away in his shirt pocket with a triumphant grin. Now he wanted to go on the roller coaster, he said.

Rachel told him she did not like roller coasters.

"Then I'll go with Reuven," he said.

I told him I did not like roller coasters either.

"Then I'll go alone," he said, and started by himself toward the ticket booth.

Rachel looked at me helplessly.

"Your cousin is a first-class brat," I said. "Come on. We can't let him go up there by himself."

Michael grinned delightedly as he watched us purchase our tickets. We came through the turnstile and climbed into the front seat of a car. The remaining seats filled rapidly. The teen-age boy who had taken our tickets shouted something to the man behind the ticket counter and pushed down a long lever set near the tracks. There was a faint hum of machinery. The car moved forward. Michael sat to my left, talking excitedly about the last time he had been on a roller coaster years ago in Coney Island. He had been scared half to death, he said, grinning at me and pushing the glasses back up on the bridge of his nose. Rachel sat to my right, looking a little frightened. The car climbed slowly up a steep incline. Then we were at the crest and with a suddenness that pushed me back against the seat and took the air from my lungs we dropped wildly into the night.

The car hurtled downward on roaring wheels between lights that blurred into quivering lines. Michael held on tightly to the support rod, his body rigid, his teeth clenched. Rachel gave me a resigned look. We rose and fell and rose again and fell again. On the ground below, the carnival heaved and undulated like a garish blanket in a windstorm. There were screams and shouts from the other passengers and the fierce crescendo of racing steel wheels. Michael sat with his eyes narrow against the whipping of the wind and his mouth open as though gulping the air that beat against him. Then, with an abrupt motion, he stood up in the car.

Immediately Rachel shouted at him to sit down.

He stood there, holding tightly to the rod, his body swaying with the wild motions of the c...

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