This post came out of a conversation with H about a book I’d been reading: I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits who grew up as a member of Satmar, a small Hasidic sect originating in Romania. H was talking about the flowering of Jewish fiction, particularly in America in the mid- to late 20th century, and wondering what had happened to it which led us, by way of Saul Bellow et al., to Chaim Potok’s The Book of Lights about a young rabbi, a student of Kabbalah, whose faith is challenged by his experiences as a military chaplain in both Korea and Japan, and his friendship with the son of one of the atomic bomb makers. I remembered finishing it on holiday and being so transported that I entirely forgot my surroundings – we were sitting in some gorgeous Spanish gardens waiting for the Alhambra to open. So profound was the novel’s effect on me that I felt completely disoriented, like coming to after a particularly vivid dream.
In my old bookselling days, very few customers asked for Potok’s books but I made sure we kept them in stock. If I was asked for The Book of Lights or sold a copy I’d always chat with the customer about it – many were buying a second or third copy having passed their own on. Sad to say, this extraordinarily powerful book seems to be out of print in the UK, perhaps too much of its time to stay the course although no one says that about George Eliot. Any books now sunk into obscurity that have made a lasting impression on you?