I'm not sure how long my attack of literary boredom will last, but I hope I'll be all better by the last week in May, when I plan to attend Book Expo 2009 in New York City. I'll even be participating in a blogger book signing during the weekend (more about this soon) so I sure better wake up soon. I tried to cure my boredom with a Wells Tower book, but that didn't help.
Anyway, while I'm here, just a couple of literary links to share:
1. All about Sholom Aleichem.
2. Open Book, a new literary TV show.
3. Tao Lin ponders the meaning of everything at the Poetry Foundation blog. (Sample question: "Do Blogs Help People Accept Death?")
4. Soft Skull lives on!
Have a great weekend, and don't forget to stop by this weekend to check out the guest review.
As the author of the family Holocaust memoir The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, Mendelsohn's appreciation for Littell's novel seems to carry extra weight, and as an expert in classic literature he is well qualified to explain its careful references. Mendelsohn helpfully lays out significant parallels to Aeschylus's Oresteia trilogy, and brings not only Jean-Paul Sartre's The Flies but also Herman Melville's Moby Dick into the mix. An excellent read, but can I now be excused from reading Littell's 992 page book? I think I get the main idea now, and I wonder if there is much more to get.
Since I carry my own recurring obsession with the topic of genocide, I can't approach a book like The Kindly Ones without bringing some baggage. If I understand correctly, Littell's intention with this novel is to shove our face in horror, and to shock us by presenting a credibly intellectual and well-adjusted "hero" who is also an unapologetic Nazi and a maniacal sadist. That's fine, but I've already read dozens of books about the Holocaust (Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke was, for me, the most important recent work, William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich the most essential history, Primo Levi's If This Is A Man and Art Spiegelman's Maus the most emotionally resonant stories, and Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil the best philosophical treatment). While I'm all for burying genteel faces in horror, my own face has already been buried plenty.
I also find it inexplicable that we continue to romanticize and rhapsodize about the European Jewish Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s as if it were unique when in fact genocide is so prevalent, so common, so cheap around us. For instance, a vicious, carefully orchestrated holocaust rages in the Sudan right now, as we blog, as we twitter. Reviewers of Jonathan Littell's novel talk about the murder of children and grandmothers, but communities including children and grandmothers are being ground into nonexistence today in Darfur, and very few people seem to think anything can be done about it.
It's ironic that the Holocaust has become such a cottage industry -- shelves in bookstores, museums in cities around the world -- even as "holocaust denial" grows into its own odious cottage industry, taking root from the Vatican to Iran.
I think there's plenty more to be said about the meaning of genocide in the modern world, but I'm not sure I need to read a 992-page indulgence in fictional evil when I can read articles like this, this, this, this or this in today's New York Times.
How can I not like this book? It's a story about college-educated heterosexual male Jewish New Yorkers scrounging with hearts wide open for paychecks, love and, more than anything else, a path to peace in the Middle East.
The main characters in this book are all obsessed, absolutely obsessed, with global politics. One plumbs the contorted history of the Russian Revolution for meaning, another visits Jenin in the West Bank and shares a moving moment with a new Palestinian friend, and another writes an angry book about George W. Bush (it's called The Damage Done) and now contemplates personal ethics (the most difficult kind of all) while trying to figure out his next move. It's a charming portrait of people who remind me very much of myself about half a generation ago, when I was as old as these characters (luckily, since then I have found paychecks and have found true love, though the path to peace in the Middle East remains elusive as hell).
Keith Gessen is previously known as the editor of N+1 magazine, and I like this book more than I like that magazine. When Gessen writes directly about politics he tends to strangle himself in his own pessimism. But when he sketches portraits of himself and his friends strangling themselves in political nonsense, we are able to see the self-deprecating humor that can only mix uneasily with the declarative mode of expression.
Gessen also puts his close identification with Harvard University (where he went to school) into ironic play in All The Sad Young Literary Men. As Jews and Ivy League graduates, these characters must feel themselves doubly "chosen" (and thus certainly bound to disappoint their high expectations, whatever these expectations might be). They are also obsessed with fear of their youth slipping away. Anxiety is certainly this novel's top note.
But does it scan? Yes, and that's probably why the book seems to be gaining a following even among readers who are not Jewish male Harvard-educated New Yorkers. To the extent that this novel brings up serious issues, I'm sure this is a good thing. I'm not saying I'd like to read a whole lot of novels like this one -- one per decade would probably suit me fine. But I breezed through this book with much recognition and much enjoyment. Here's a little Sartre-esque passage I particularly like:
When you are twenty years old, and twenty-one, and twenty-two, and twenty-three, what you want from people is that they tell you about you. When you are twenty, and twenty-one, and twenty-two, and twenty-three, you watch the world for the way it watches you. Do people laugh when you make a joke, do they kiss you when you lean into them at a party? Yes? Aha -- so that's who you are. But these people themselves laughing and not-laughing, kissing and not-kissing, they themselves are young, and you begin to think, if you're twenty or twenty-one, when you are young, that these people are not to be trusted, your contemporaries, your screwed-up friends and girlfriends -- that it's not because of you that they kissed you, but because of them, something about them, those narcissists, whereas you were asking about you, what did they think of you? Now you have no idea. This is why it's so important to meet your heroes while you are young, so they can tell you.
Debut novels by Mark Sarvas and Keith Gessen: two for two. But how do they stack up?
Gessen has better cover art, and characters I relate to more (though I only went to a state school). Sarvas has the stronger laugh lines, I think, and the subtler flights of prose. Now let's see how far I get with Nathaniel Rich and Ed Park, if I have any time left at all to read this Spring.
I'm also interested in The Delivery Man, the debut novel by Joe McGinniss (in fact I'm about to read this story of Las Vegas depravity and prostitution) and I really like Ed Park's vibrant write-up, which references R. Kelly, Joan Didion and (perhaps too often) Bret Easton Ellis. And I don't know if I will ever dive into Roddy Doyle's The Deportees and Other Stories, one story of which continues the tale of his Commitments, but Erica Wagner's review is fine enough, and so is Ann Hodgman's introduction to Max Apple's The Jew of Home Depot. Four worthwhile fiction reviews, not bad at all.
I've got to dislike something, though, and the attention-hungry poetry critic William Logan provides a big target with his pretentious review of Geoffrey Hill's Treatise of Civil Power, a poetry collection that appears to be incomprehensible without a specialist's knowledge of obscure British history. I know British history better than most, I think, but this book appears to be about as appealing as a hair shirt, and William Logan is way too impressed with himself for being capable of appreciating it. But it's Logan's bombastic phraseology -- "gouts of praise", "hang the cost in moral uplift", "hedge his love with the thorns of attitude" -- that makes me feel like I'm stuck in a dreary poetry hut inside a bad renaissance fair. Enough of both Geoffrey Hill and William Logan; let them enjoy each other, but I enjoy neither.
This Book Review contains enough books with Jewish or Holocaust themes to make me wonder if the editors briefly considered matching the recent Islam Issue with a Judaism issue. Rachel Donadio's closing piece on the early reception of Elie Wiesel's Night is surprising and very worthwhile; I had no idea that this book met with so much rejection and apathy before it became a classic.
On the political front, Jacob Heilbrunn's review of Condoleeza Rice: An American Life by Elisabeth Bumiller is perceptive, though I find myself wanting to echo his restrained commentary more pointedly, as when he says:
Despite their close relationship, Bush had only a hazy notion of what role a national security advisor should play.
and I want to mention that Bush seems to have only a hazy notion of a whole, whole lot of things. And those who have been following political critic Jim Sleeper's recent charges of conservative bias in the NYTBR will find a significant update in the Yale Daily News, which reveals that Tanenhaus discussed the question of the Book Review's alleged lack of political balance at a "tea" with Yale students. Sleeper, interviewed for this article as well, states that Tanenhaus has been on a "charm offensive" lately. Just what we need: another surge.
Well, not with Jews like Michael Chabon around it's not. I'm fascinated by the fact that this quirky writer has somehow made Yiddish buzzworthy in 2007 with his acclaimed new novel The Yiddish Policeman's Union. I'm drawn to this book, even though I have mixed feelings about Chabon's execution of the concept. Maybe that's just because I can't help having high expectations for a book like this.
Sarah Weinman has high expectations too, since she happens to be a native Yiddish speaker. This gives her a unique perspective on Chabon's outsider's vision of the Yiddish-speaker's world. Many Yiddish speakers bristle at Chabon's condescending use of the language as comic metaphor, Weinman points out. She's also not satisfied by the novelist's felicity with the language:
"... even though I enjoyed the book, I couldn't quite shake the inborn expectations I had in hoping somehow that there would be a more living, breathing personification of a Yiddish-speaking homeland instead of the more ersatz, mainstream-friendly result that is winning Chabon a lot of praise from my critical peers."
My own gripe with the book? I can't go for that movie-set noir pastiche. You've got to be Paul Auster to pull this mystery mood off, and Michael Chabon strikes me as more of a bush-league Jonathan Lethem in the genre territory.
And yet the book's concept fascinates me, and I keep browsing the pages, tempted to dive back in. Perhaps I will. I've always known about the power of modern-era Yiddish writers, from the gentle evergreen humorist Leo Rosten to the awe-inspiring Isaac Bashevis Singer, who I had the honor of taking a class with at Albany State. I love his stories, but my all-time favorite piece of Yiddish-oriented literature is a work of fiction written in English: Envy, or Yiddish In America by the formidable Cynthia Ozick.
In this acidic story, Ozick the bespectacled battle-axe out-Bellows Saul Bellow with a bitter but hilarious portrait of a raging Yiddish writer and translator apoplectic with fury at the fact that another Yiddish-writing associate of his (said to be based on Isaac Bashevis Singer himself) has just become a smashing literary success. It's not clear which infuriates the story's hero more, the fact that Yiddish is dying or the fact that a different Yiddish writer has just hit the jackpot.
It's true that I. B. Singer was a superstar in Yiddish circles. When I came back from college and told my Grandma Clara and Aunt Rose about my class with the unforgettable Nobel laureate they were both impressed, and Aunt Rose told me that Singer's assumed middle name is an inside joke, because "Bashevis" means "Mamma's boy" (I never knew if she was making this up or not, but now I see that, according to Wikipedia, Aunt Rose knew her stuff).
Grandma Clara's younger son turned out to be my father (oh, you haven't heard that story?), who never took an interest in Yiddish as far as I know, but he has a friend from Brooklyn College named Al Grand who has made a name for himself translating Gilbert and Sullivan plays into Yiddish (his recent version of Pirates of Penzance is a hit).
It happens that Sarah Weinman wrote about Al Grand's comments on a previous Michael Chabon/Yiddish controversy in her blog post above, which just goes to prove how small this yiddische world is. Inspired by Sarah's article, I couldn't resist the chance to ask Al Grand some of my own questions, and to enjoy hearing about this language -- the language of my own heritage, though I know nothing about it -- from someone with a lot of knowledge to share.
Yiddish seems to be in the air these days. Why do you think that is?
There are so many organizations, writers, entertainers, etc. who are passionate about keeping Yiddish alive and who are working assiduously towards that endeavor that it would take a large book to answer this questions adequately. But I could do worse than to begin with The National Yiddish Book Center a vibrant, non-profit organization working to rescue Yiddish books and celebrate the culture they contain. Supported by 30,000 members, they are now the largest and fastest-growing Jewish cultural organization in America. Then there's Mendele - a moderated mailing list dedicated to the lively exchange of views, information, news and just about anything else related to the Yiddish language and Yiddish literature. Mendele has world wide subscribers who explore every conceivable topic related to Yiddish. Yiddish courses are taught in colleges throughout the world. A four-week Summer Program in Yiddish was begun in Oxford, England in 1982 and transferred to Vilnius in 1998. Since then, Vilnius University has been home to this highly praised university-accredited course in Yiddish language and culture. In 2001, the course became an integral component of the new Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University. Yearly, it has drawn participants from as many as nineteen countries across the globe. A large number are university students; overall, however, the most varied backgrounds, pursuits, and professions are represented. As I said -- I can go on for the length of a book but I'll stop here.
Do you consider yourself an expert in the language?
The majority of Jews in the USA and approximately half of the 3 million Jews in Israel plus a substantial number of French, British, Russian, Argentinian Jews are Ashkenazi Jews of central or eastern European origin who share a religious subculture with Yiddish as its lingua franca. I am not a Yiddish expert in the sense of being academically trained. Also -- Yiddish is not my native tongue -- so in that regard I am also not an expert. However -- I grew up in a household wherein both of my parents, whose native tongue was Yiddish, spoke it constantly. I absorbed it very naturally. I am basically self-taught through the use of Weinreich's Yiddish/English -- English/Yiddish wonderful dictionary as well as his College Yiddish. I also own and consult Mordkhe Shchaechter's Yiddish Tsvey, Dovid Katz's Grammar of the Yiddish Language and numerous collections of Yiddish poetry, novels, proverbs, music, etc.
Have you read Chabon's book and do you have any opinions on it?
I have not read Chabon's book -- but I understand that he has a limited background in the Yiddish language.
I've always heard that Yiddish is a mash-up of Hebrew and German, but when I see it it seems more German than Hebrew to me. Am I missing something?
Although most of Yiddish vocabulary is from ancient German -- still about a fourth or so of the vocabulary is from Hebrew. Take the three words in the title of my piece DI YAM GAZLONIM. The only Germanic element therein is "Di". The word "YAM" means "ocean" both in Hebrew and in Yiddish. And "GAZLONIM" is the plural of "GAZLEN" which means "robber" both in Hebrew and in Yiddish. Thus "DI YAM GAZLONIM" means, word for word "the sea robbers" or in more graceful English "the robbers of the sea". Historically Yiddish stems from medieval German so it retains many of the medieval elements of the German language that no longer exist in modern German. Thus German linguists who specialize in old German studies are interested in doing scholarly studies of Yiddish.
Where do you think Yiddish studies will be 100 years from now?
My hope is that it should continue to live. But prophecy is not one of my strengths.
Can you quote a couple of favorite verses from your Yiddish "Penzance" for us to enjoy? Naturally "Major General" comes to mind but I'd leave it to you to select verses you like.
(breaking into song)
"Ikh bin der Groyser General un ikh bin oykh a guter Yid"
Ikh gey oysrekhnen yetst mayne ale mayles in a Yiddish lid,
Ikh hob a klugn kop un ikh farshtey Einstein's teoriye,
Ikh ken dertseyln ales fun der gantse velt historiye,
Kh'bin zeyer gut bakant mit ale mayses fun de Maupassant,
Ikh tants, un zing, un makh a shpas - ikh bin a mentsh mit groys talant,
Ikh ken gut bakn lekekh un ikh veys fun fotografia-
Ikh ken gut shisn un ikh hob nit moyre far der Mafia!
Ikh lern gut Gemorah un mit Toyre bin ikh gut bakant,
Un alemol bay tog un nakht halt ikh dem sider in der hant
In kurtzn vil ikh zogn aykh ven ikh farendik shoyn mayn lid,
Ikh bin a Groyser General un ikh bin oykh a guter Yid!
Ikh bin a talmid khokhim un an opera zinger bin ikh oykh,
Der "Barber fun Seville" ken ikh gut zingen mit mayn shtime hoykh,
A khale ken ikh bakn un a lokshn kugl makh ikh fayn,
Ikh makh a kiddish erev Shabos un gey glaykh in shul arayn.
In shul ken ikh gut davenen un leynen toyre ken ikh oykh,
Un chiken zup mit kneydlakh es ikh biz es tut mir vey der boykh,
Ikh kokh a Purim tsimes un makh latkes yedn Khanike "anike","lanike","panike", A-HA!
Kh'ken tantsn gut a "hora" un ikh shpil af der "harmonica"
How would one say "Literary Kicks" in Yiddish?
"Literarishe Klep". Note that every "a" is pronounced "ah".
Literarishe Klep says thanks to Al Grand for an interesting interview and a great Yiddish "Major General".
Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a blend of Jewish folklore with detective fiction, a sort of Saul Bellow meets Raymond Chandler. Or maybe if Bernard Malamud wrote haggadic murder mysteries. It begins, as all good noir begins, with the knight-errant detective, a real mensch of a cop named Landsman, called upon in the middle of the night to investigate a mysterious murder. Through the unfolding plot, Chabon draws a richly imagined world of a civilization that never was, a Jewish homeland in Alaska instead of Israel.
The industry is buzzing about chick-lit again. I don't know much about this whole phenomenon, except in a strange way I do, because I was raised on chick-lit. As a kid in the 1970s, the first grownup books I read (and really enjoyed) were the racy, funny and wise novels that my grandmother, my mother and my older sister left lying around the house. These books had a big influence on me, and I wonder if the chick-lit of today could possibly be as good.
I was skeptical myself when I first heard of this book, but something compelled me to pick up the magazine and see what old Norm's up to, and I found the piece oddly affecting. I may even read the book.
The Castle in the Forest fictionalizes the childhood of Adolph Hitler, and posits that Satan himself sent an agent to lurk in the Austrian forests to infect the innocent and sad child's mind with evil. The book is narrated by a cool, even-toned demon, and the story focuses on child Adolph's relationship with his cruel and self-important father, Alois Hitler. In this passage, they are planning to visit a neighborhood beekeeper who will play an important role in Hitler's training, and the devil carefully prepares the scene by planting a dream in the child's head:
As a matter of style, when it comes to dreamwork, I have always been inclined to avoid baroque virtuosities. Modest scenarios are usually more effective. In this case, I satisfied myself by producing as close a presentation of Der Alte's face and voice as I could manage before placing him in Adi's dream. For the setting, I used an image of one of the two rooms of the old man's hut, and made the yard visible through the window. The action of the dream could not have been more direct. As Der Alte led them inside his quarters, he fed Adi a spoonful of honey. I made certain the taste was exquisite on the boy's tongue. Adi awakened with wet pajamas from navel to knee and a whole sense of happiness. Stripping his wet night-clothing, a not unusual event, he went back into slumber, replaying the dream with his own small variations, looking to taste the honey again. In his mind, he was certain that he would soon meet Der Alte, and this emboldened him to ask his father to take him along next morning. Alois, as I have remarked, was pleased.
Okay, so the old goat can still write. What does it mean? I really don't know, but I keep thinking of Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, which also scrambled and reinvented the history of World War II, and also did so by delving into the mind of a child (in Roth's case, a frightened Jewish-American boy). It's a striking fact that two Judaic-American literary superstars are spending their mature years conjuring alternative visions of Nazism, as if grasping to finally come to terms with it.
In the link above, Sarah Weinman summarizes the Newsweek review of Mailer's book with a single word: 'trainwreck'. I find that interesting because I actually thought Philip Roth's novel was a trainwreck (clumsy writing, murky message), and yet many many people all over the world somehow seemed to relate to it.
God only knows if Mailer's new book will reach the same acclaim as Roth's did. Myself, I'm interested enough to read some more when I get my hands on it.
You see, for many Jews like myself, the impossible image of a world where the Nazi slaughter never happened is a secret fantasy, a dark dream where we sometimes reside. Feelings of guilt and self-hatred related to the Jewish slaughters of World War II have become an evergreen obsession among Jews of every generation in every country in the world, and we all sometimes yearn for a fantasy world where "it never happened", where our children won't ever have to hear about it.
The problem is the secret formula that every Jewish kid figures out at some point: "they tried to kill us, so we must deserve it. There is something despicable about us" -- whether this thing is genetic, learned or karmic or most often a combination of the three -- "and we deserve to die". This myth cuts deep into the consciousness of many westernized Jews, especially those in safe countries (and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that this explains a lot about Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, Roseanne Barr, Larry David and many others).
Holocaust myths? Yeah, there are plenty around, and if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is going to start investigating myths about the Holocaust I think I'd like to knock a couple down too.
The biggest myth is that Hitler's Holocaust represents a uniquely terrible moment in human history. The sad truth is that it was no such thing. It was not the deadliest genocide of the 20th Century, for instance -- Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong both arranged for the deaths of greater numbers of their own citizens in order to reduce unsupportable populations. It was not the most efficient Holocaust -- it took many years for Eichmann's Aryan bureaucrats to kill millions of Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and others, while the Hutus of Rwanda killed a million Tutsis in a single month in 1994. It wasn't the only Holocaust aimed at wiping an entire ethnic group off the face of the earth (the Turkish government tried the same thing in 1915, murdering one and a half million Armenians).
Here's the really bleak truth: Genocide is cheap. Genocide is easy. Genocide R Us. Read today's paper and catch up on the growing Holocaust in Darfur. Look at the bombings between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. I'm not even talking about Bosnia and Serbia and Kosovo, or Cambodia, or the the Belgian Congo, or the Native Americans. Can't tell your genocides without a program ...
There are a lot of Holocaust myths, and if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran wants to examine what happened in Europe between 1933 and 1945 I think he's going to find out more than he wants to know.
How should American Jews react to the news of this conference of Holocaust deniers, which includes American Idiot David Duke? It sure is offensive (I'd like to go there and tell them how I personally know that the Holocaust happened -- because Grandma Clara had no family). But it doesn't do much good to get offended, so I say we wish them good luck, because genocide is a big topic for all of us to think about, and they might even learn something. They are entering the realm of study Joseph Conrad referred to as the Heart of Darkness, and it sure is dark in there. Not just for Jews, either.
The Chosen was published in 1969, the same magical year Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, half a million gathered at Woodstock and the New York Mets won the World Series. But it takes place in the years before and after World War II, when two kids named Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter are growing up in Brooklyn. Both are sons of famous Jewish leaders: Danny Saunders is the celebrated first-born of a revered Hasidic rabbi, and Reuven Malter is the son of a controversial and secular-minded political journalist. The two are not meant to know each other, mainly because of the separatist traditions of Hasidic Judaism (which is highly mystical but ultra-conservative, and which does not welcome outsiders to the tradition). But they meet playing baseball, discover mutual interests and become best friends despite their vastly different religious backgrounds.
But Saunders, the Rabbi's son, is fascinated with Freudian psychology, and he drifts constantly from his father's teachings. Reuven, meanwhile, becomes caught up in the Israeli war of independence in 1948 and discovers himself filled with religious yearnings. The best part of the book is the end, when the boys have become adults and finally manage to complete their own transformations. In the book's unforgettable final scene, Danny the Rabbi's son shows up at Reuven's door in a business suit, his long hair shaved and his earlocks cut off. These symbols of his culture seemed unremovable, and yet he simply removed them. Meanwhile, Reuven, who was raised to disdain religion, has become a rabbi.
Last week I talked about books by two Palestinian authors, Elias Khoury and Mahmoud Darwish. I wrote that I hoped Palestinians and Israelis would sometimes read each other's books, but the honest truth is that I have never read a novel by an Israeli writer (not even David Grossman, who lost a son this weekend). If I had to recommend any one novel to represent the Jewish experience, though, that novel would be The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I also heartily recommend the 1981 film version starring Barry Miller (of Fame) as Reuven and Robby Benson, who is surprisingly good despite being annoying in every other movie of his career, as Danny Saunders. Rod Steiger also makes a great impression as the commanding Reb Saunders.
* * * * *
Now, about the name. What intrigued me so much about The Chosen was the idea that humans can change themselves at the deepest levels. For the course of the entire novel, we cannot conceive of Danny without his heavy suit and long hair and earlocks. This is his essence, but he is somehow compelled to become something different. This is an expression of ultimate freedom, the type of freedom Jean-Paul Sartre and William James wrote about. It reminds me of the way we all transform ourselves during our lives, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.
Around the time I first read this book (ok, I'll admit it, I saw the movie first) I was thinking about the name I was born with, a name I never particularly liked. Like many American Jews, I was stuck with a name that denied my own ethnicity: my first name is of Roman and French origin, and my last name is German. I never understood why an American Jew should carry around a German last name. I don't even like my born name enough to tell it to you now, but I'll just say it's a familiar combination like one you could make by putting together one from column A and one from column B below:
I spent a lot of time thinking about names, and I decided that I wanted to honor my ethnic heritage by taking on a Hebrew name. This was not a religious decision, but it was an aesthetic one -- I simply wanted a name I'd be proud to call myself by.
I also thought, around this time, about the fact that my grandmother had come to America from an Ukranian village called Potok Zloty, which hinted at a connection with Chaim Potok. I thought about taking a name from The Chosen, but neither "Danny Saunders" nor "Reuven Malter" had the right ring to it. But then, Chaim Potok had also written this other book.
And that's how I became Levi Asher. If you've ever contemplated changing your own name, I can tell you that it's not easy. Family members and old friends aren't likely to ever get used to it. Former names also have a way of sticking to you, and sometimes you forget who you are.
Still, I firmly believe that every human being has the right to choose a name they enjoy living with, although they should try to avoid the Prince/P. Diddy syndrome of changing it too often. I'm going to be sticking with Levi.