The Conversation: A Novel by Joshua Golding. Urim Publications, Jerusalem. 527 pages. HB. $28.95.
The Conversation is 527 pages long and reads much longer, which is its strength and weakness.
It traces student David Goldstein, who begins as a not-very-devout Jew, through his college years. In fact, the book is divided into four sections: Freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years.
The story is told through e-mails with parents and other mentors, and accounts of conversations with rabbis and teachers, interaction with various students and kin along the way and his own personal journal. Very little is summarized.
David begins his college days as a nominal Jew who wants to be a lawyer and is dating a non-Jew, Helen Porter. He soon discards her for religious reasons, and decides to major in philosophy, where he delves into various aspects of Judaism.
He meets rabbis, teachers and Esther Applefield, an Orthodox Jew, all of whom guide him into an awareness of his Jewish origins. He also reconnects with his immediate family and a second cousin along the way.
David moves closer to Esther, but is traumatized by a death in the family at the end of his sophomore year. At the end of that division of the novel, he asks for help: “God, if you exist, help me” (307).
In his junior year, he is introduced to the Kabbalah by his second cousin, Chaim. Although he tells Chaim that Esther is his girlfriend, he begins to move away from her and towards his Jewish destiny.
At a party after graduation, he, some of his teachers and friends, but not Esther, conduct a “Symposium on Wisdom,” a last effort for David to elucidate his “Jewishness” before he travels to Israel to study with Rabbi Low.
David’s relationship with Esther remains unresolved at the end of the novel, as is the question about whether God responded to his earlier plea for help.
The detail in this book is both its strength and weakness. To read the book is to experience what David went through on his journey from nominal to devout Orthodox Jew. The journey is long, detailed and quite impressive. The author leaves out very little, describing conversations, face-to-face and by e-mail, in great detail. It is a journey that is probably worth taking, but the reader must choose to invest much time in it.