I now have the honor of hosting Dr. Golding’s response to my review, discussing some of the issues I raised and questioned in my review.
Joshua Golding responds:
As the author of The Conversation I’d like to express my great thanks to Rafi G for posting a review of my book on his blog! Its nice to read a review where you can tell that the reviewer “got” what the book is all about: a philosophical journey in the form of a novel. However, I did want to respond to a few of his critical comments on certain aspects of the story.
First of all, I do see the main character David as “discussing philosophy himself, and arguing with others.” From the beginning of the book, he thinks and speaks critically about what he is being told by his friends, professors and the Rabbis with whom he comes in contact. The development of David’s own views comes gradually in his journal, which grows and deepens in complexity over time. Also, toward the very end of the book, in a conversation held during his senior year graduation party, David really blossoms by suggesting his own view about the nature of wisdom. As the book develops from the beginning of his freshman year to his senior year, David critically sifts through many of the views and arguments he has heard, and develops his own unique approach to things. At the end of the book, David makes an important decision which is driven partly by emotional factors but also by his philosophical journey that has taken place over four years’ time.
As far as his relationship with Esther, what I intended there was that while at the beginning David is interested in Esther primarily because he is attracted to her, as their acquaintance grows he actually becomes more interested in her as a friend, precisely because he comes to know her as a person rather than just as a pretty thing. On the other hand, while Esther at first has no romantic interest in David, gradually as she comes to know him better as someone who is sincerely interested in really learning about Judaism, she comes to admire him in a way that she did not expect, and this triggers a genuine love for him as things go on. This was not an abrupt change on her part, but something that gradually happened over time, with numerous hints to this along the way. The astute reader may come to realize that actually, Esther’s handling of the relationship was really quite more mature than David’s handling of it all along. However, both Esther, and especially David, do mature through the process.
Next, it may indeed seem a bit unusual that Chaim — a very frum guy who is studying for smicha — should start teaching ideas from Kabbalah to David, who is not knowledgable about much of the basics of Torah, not to mention Shas and Poskim. But after all, Chaim himself is a bit odd, in that he studies Kabbalah at all! Chaim’s view is that it is only by studying Kabbalah that one can really understand what Torah is about. Chaim speaks with some disdain about the ignorance of even basic Kabbalistic ideas in the general Yeshivish world, and he also realizes that in order to be “mekarev” him, David needs to learn some of the basics of Kabbalah. And in any case, Chaim tries to encourage David not only to study Kabbalah but to study and indeed to practice the basics as well.
This book is about philosophical and spiritual growth, with heavy Jewish content. If you’re interested in thinking rigorously about your intellectual and spiritual life as a Jew, you will probably find this book quite worthwhile. I grant that it is not a quick read; it is more like reading a “sefer” than your average novel. I have found that the book is particularly of interest among students who are in their “gap” year between high school and college, such as at places like Yeshivat Hakotel, Eretz Hatzvi, Orayta, Midreshet Harova and Midreshet Lindenbaum. But I also have found interest among older readers and indeed quite a few non-Jews find the book interesting and educational as well. Incidentally, I think it is also a good book for people who are “off the derech” to read — if they are off the derech for intellectual reasons.
If you’d like to contact me about coming to visit your institution and talking about the book, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org