David Goldstein, the central character in Bellarmine University philosophy professor Joshua Golding’s new novel, is a fairly typical American Jewish college student, in that he is expected to marry a Jewish girl, and he knows that the state of Israel is important and, beyond that, he does not know very much about his heritage.
As a college freshman, David begins to encounter the big questions: Is there a God? If so, why does He permit evil and suffering in the world? And what does it mean to be Jewish?
The Conversation is neatly divided into four sections — freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years — and follows David as he learns about Judaism and philosophy.
The reader, of course, learns along with him.
The novel is, by and large, conversational, hence the title. We see David in dialogue with rabbis, professors, fellow students and friends, as he seeks a personal understanding of deep questions that are only now beginning to make themselves real to him.
The story is likewise multi-textual, told in conversations, letters, journal entries, emails, lectures and essays for class (complete with the professor’s markings and marginalia in red ink!). Differing typefaces are used for each genre.
Published in Israel by Urim Publications, the book has been beautifully produced.
The book is an interesting hybrid — a novel that is also intended to instruct.
The philosophical content is quite accessible for the lay reader. In some quarters, this book might find itself compared to Jostein Gaarder’s 1991 novel Sophie’s World, but it should not be.
Sophie’s World folded nugget-like philosophy lectures inside a sprawling narrative. The Conversation is a sustained inquiry, an ongoing intellectual back-and-forth, with as many questions raised as answered, which, I am given to understand, closely follows long-standing Judaic tradition.
The Conversation is both a coming-of-age story and a primer on Judaic philosophy. If this dual nature limits its literary accomplishment, the reader is amply compensated by the ideas espoused, debated, argued, pondered, and by the deep humanity of the character of David.
Golding has held research positions at the University of Haifa in Israel and at the University of Notre Dame. He is also the author of Rationality and Religious Theism.
This article may be found at the Courier-Journal site.