Picks and Pans Review: Davita's Harp

UPDATED 03/18/1985 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/18/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

by Chaim Potok

The harp of the title is a four-stringed little instrument that is struck with wooden balls whenever the front door is opened or closed. It becomes a motif throughout this engrossing novel. Potok, the author of The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev, tells this story from the point of view of a Brooklyn girl growing up just before the Spanish Civil War—the dark preliminary to World War II. Her father is a newspaperman who is also a communist. Her mother, a no-longer-religious Jew, is an ardent Marxist, too. Davita and her parents live in a series of small apartments, and summer in a cottage at the New Jersey shore. She finds that she is fascinated by Jewish things, but her father's sister is a Christian missionary nurse, and from Aunt Sarah, Davita learns to kneel and pray. There is also a character named Jakob Daw, a famous and controversial writer whom the U.S. doesn't want because of his leftist views. Davita calls him Uncle Jakob, and it is he who says the words that could be applied to Potok: "I am a writer of stories...A writer is a strange instrument of our species, a harp of sorts, fine-tuned to the dark contradictions of life." It is an enormous pleasure to sink into such a rich, sentimental, solidly written novel as Davita's Harp. The reader knows from the first few pages that he is in the hands of a sure professional who won't let him down. (Knopf, $16.95)

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