The Conversation, by Joshua Golding, is a book on philosophy. Specifically, Jewish Philosophy.
The Conversation is listed as a book of fiction, because the philosophy is couched in a story, but do not doubt that philosophy in the book is far more dominant than the fictional story in which it is couched. The story makes it readable – to non-philosophers, but the story is clearly secondary to the philosophy.
The story is of a young Jewish college student who is not at all connected to his Jewish heritage, beyond having had a bar mitzvah. So much so, that he is even dating a non-Jewish fellow student and thinks nothing of it. As the story goes, David Goldstein is a student of Philosophy. As a freshman he starts to forge his way in his studies, delving into philosophy and developing his relationships with his friends and professors. An experience by a Holocaust Museum entices him to go in, and he gets touched by something that sparks a search about his Jewish roots and the philosophy of Judaism.
David breaks up with his girlfriend as his search about Judaism becomes more intense. Eventually he begins to focus almost completely on Jewish philosophy, develops a relationship with an Orthodox female student, and finds mentors to add to the professors he talks with. David eventually learns of an Orthodox cousin, and later in the book makes a connection with him as well, which greatly influences David and his studies.
I don’t want to give away too much of the story, so I will leave it at that.
The truth is, I found the story very interesting, despite some questions it raised and despite the fact that it felt a bit incomplete. For example, I wondered, about the fictional story aspect (in no particular order):
- for a philosophy student, David seems kind of lacking. Almost all the philosophy in the book is presented by teachers and mentors, and very little by David. As the main character of the book, and a philosophy student, I would have expected him to discuss philosophy himself, and argue with others. Mostly he is listening to philosophy and asking the occasional questions. Not a big deal, but I would have expected more of his character.
- I don’t get how the relationship with Esther, the Orthodox student, went from friends to an expectation of something more (from her side) that appears later in the book. it almost comes out of nowhere, and it seemed very abrupt.
- When David meets his cousin, Chaim, Chaim begins to teach him kabbala. I don’t get that – Chaim is presented as extremely Orthodox – even learning in kollel and writing a mussar sefer – yet he meets this not frum kid studying philosophy and starts to teach him kabbala right away, even after realizing that David had barely even learned any gemara or most other standard Jewish texts? It seemed a little strange to me.
This review originally appeared on Life in Israel.