“I believe that there is always a ram in the bush,” he heard her say.
He turned to face her. Small white expectant features. Wide unblinking eyes overlaid with a transparent yellowish film flecked with pinpoints of golden light, probably from the sun. A serpent’s eyes, they almost seem. The eyes of a story writer?
“A ram in the bush, you say,”
“I believe that.”
“How very nice to think so.”
Old Men at Midnight rounds out my reread of Chaim Potok’s novels that I started sometime in the spring of 2018. This is also his final published work from 2001. Potok died in 2003.
This novel differs in structure from Potok’s other novels in that it is three novellas that connect through Ilana Davita from Davita’s Harp at various stages of her life. In each story, she plays the restorer of memory for three different male characters – all Jewish and all affected by World War II.
But these male characters are not necessarily the “Old Men” mentioned in the title. The stories each one tells Ilana contains an old man such as a Polish Rabbi enlisting the help of the youth of his community to repaint his synagogue, a doctor who saves the arm of a Jewish soldier turned KGB agent in Stalin’s Russia, and a trope teacher who purposely returns to Germany during World War II.
The “Midnight” in the title perhaps has a dual meaning. These men are in the midnight of their lives in that they are nearing the end and they are also in an extremely dark and dangerous time in history.
Most of Potok’s novels have at least a glimmer of hope as Ilana states in the quotation above; however, her male friends seem to think differently. As Ilana grows into an accomplished novelist, I like to think that Potok somehow finds memory-keeping and story-telling to be part of this hopefulness.
Here are links to my posts about Potok’s other novels: