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Old Men at Midnight by Chaim Potok
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Old Men at Midnight (2001)

by Chaim Potok

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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» See also 26 mentions

English (6)  Dutch (1)  All languages (7)
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
I've read other works by this author, loving the characters surrounded by an authenticity that settled deep, putting me in the stories. In the three novellas contained within the covers of Old Men at Midnight I found myself, again, within the stories, immersed to the exclusion of outside distractions...but I had a hard time finding something to like about the people within his tales. Four stars for execution, three stars for likability. ( )
  fuzzi | Jan 26, 2019 |
I wish I could have given this more of a 3.5 stars instead of 4, but I went for the higher rating for the fact that the people and situations in this book will remain memorable to me for quite some time. ( )
  christina.h | Sep 22, 2016 |
I had a real problem with this book, or rather this set of 3 novella. I'm not going to detail each one; the many other reviews do that well. I admit the problem is partly with me. I'm not a fan of Holocaust stories and I like my novels to provide a happy, or at least satisfying, ending.

The first story, despite its Holocaust theme, was my favorite. I enjoyed catching up with Davita after all these years and watching how she helped the boy find a voice to tell his tale of woe. Due to its subject, a Russian ex secret police torturer, I merely skimmed the second story. It appeared as excellently written as Potok usual works, but I had nothing but disgust for the protagonist and wanted nothing to do with his tale. The third story, which according to the Readers Guide was written a decade before the others, was so confusing and weird that I read it 3 times and still couldn't figure out what was going on. Again the protagonist was unlikable, and the plot, if you could call it that, did not engage me. The mysterious changing appearance of I.D. Chandal was disconcerting, especially as it was never explained, and I found the sexual aspects disturbing as well as unnecessary to the narrative.

Chaim Potok died only a year after this book came out, so maybe that excuses its dark and despairing focus. All those readers who gave this book 4 and 5 stars obviously saw something in it that I didn't. Yes it was well written and had great descriptions, but the subject matter did not deserve such efforts. ( )
  Maggie.Anton | Jul 18, 2014 |
what terrific writing--what spare writing--not an extra word anywhere--3 stories told to 1 woman. As a young girl, she teaches Yiddish to a teenage surviver of the camps. As a graduate student, she hosts a visiting lecturer and he writes his war story for her. He was an interragator for the Nazis, but kept his Jewish heritage hidden, and finally as a middle aged writer, she is told a story by her next door neighbor. He had a trope teacher (a teacher who is preparing the student for his Bar Mitzvah in the meanings of Hebrew) who returned to the war area. The neighbor was part of the American troop that comes on the death camps. He finds his teacher in a mass grave that has not been covered up yet. He was "overcome with an infinate sorrow." The stories are just heart stopping. ( )
  Dottiehaase | Dec 6, 2011 |
Three longish stories in which Ilana Davita Chandal (Dinn) serves as the catalyst for memory at various stages of her life, first with a teenage Holocaust survivor, then with a Jewish KGB interrogator who has defected to the US in the mid-1950's, and finally with an ailing war historian having trouble completing his memoirs. In each case, the men find it possible to bring forth memories they had buried, consciously or unconsciously. What this means to them, or to Davita, is not clear, and there are stylistic elements within these stories that I do not understand. For example, the first story, entitled "The Ark Builder" begins with Davita as an 18 year old tutoring a young man traumatized by his experiences at the hands of the Nazis. He barely speaks, and her job is to teach him English. As the story progresses, Davita encourages the young man to talk about his past, which he eventually does---in perfectly flowing English prose. There is no in-text acknowledgment of this discrepancy, and when his remembrance is finished, he again speaks to Davita in halting broken English.

In the final story of the collection, Davita is a middle-aged well-known author. She moves into the house next door to an elderly couple, who know her reputation. The husband is struggling to complete his memoirs, having found that he cannot drag forth any meaningful memories of his early life. He meets the very attractive, youthful Davita, who is working in her garden, and he is immediately drawn to her. Only later does it occur to him that she should be much older than she appears; that, in fact she is much younger, trimmer and more attractive than the photo of her on one of her recent books. Then one night he catches a glimpse of her at her writing desk through her lighted window, and what he sees is a frowsy, grey-haired, overweight woman--in fact, the image from the book jacket. Throughout the story, Dr. Walter meets the sexy youthful version of Davita repeatedly, and just as often sees the older, more realistic time-worn version at a distance. Again, a jarring story element that is never resolved.

Although Davita is the unifying presence in the three separate stories, she is mostly a mystery to the reader...very little of HER comes through, and at the end we don't even know what physical description to trust.

Despite these enigmatic elements, there is a good deal of emotional power in this book, and the memories elicited from Davita's contacts will stay with me. ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | May 19, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Potok, Chaimprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bruning, FransTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buddingh', WiebeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verhaart, MarianneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Hence, loathed melancholy,
Of Cerberusm and blackset Midnight born,
In Stygian cave forlorn
'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy
- John Milton, L'Allegro -

Aye on the shores of darkness there is light,
And precipices, show untrodden green,
There is budding morrow in midnight,
There is a triple sight in blindness keen,
- John Keets, To Homer -
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Noach belandde in onze wijk in Brooklyn dankzij zijn oom en tante, en in mijn leven door een medeling op het pribkbord van onze synagoge: Jongen van zestien uit Europa zoekt leraar Engels.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345439988, Paperback)

From the celebrated author of The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev, a trilogy of related novellas about a woman whose life touches three very different men—stories that encompass some of the profoundest themes of the twentieth century.

Ilana Davita Dinn is the listener to whom three men relate their lives.

As a young girl, she offers English lessons to a teenage survivor of the camps. In “The Ark Builder,” he shares with her the story of his friendship with a proud old builder of synagogue arks, and what happened when the German army invaded their Polish town.

As a graduate student, she finds herself escorting a guest lecturer from the Soviet Union, and in “The War Doctor,” her sympathy moves him to put his painful past to paper recounting his experiences as a Soviet NKVD agent who was saved by an idealistic doctor during the Russian civil war, only to encounter him again during the terrifying period of the Kremlin doctors’ plot.

And, finally, we meet her in “The Trope Teacher,” in which a distinguished professor of military history, trying to write his memoirs, is distracted by his wife’s illness and by the arrival next door of a new neighbor, the famous writer I. D. (Ilana Davita) Chandal.

Poignant and profound, Chaim Potok’s newest fiction is a major addition to his remarkable—and remarkably loved—body of work.


From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:51 -0400)

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"A trilogy of related novellas about a women who's life touches three very different men..."--Jacket flap.

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