Summary and book reviews of The Orchard by David Hopen

The Orchard

by David Hopen

The Orchard by David   Hopen X
The Orchard by David   Hopen
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Nov 2020, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

A commanding debut and a poignant coming-of-age story about a devout Jewish high school student whose plunge into the secularized world threatens everything he knows of himself.

Ari Eden's life has always been governed by strict rules. In ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn, his days are dedicated to intense study and religious rituals, and adolescence feels profoundly lonely. So when his family announces that they are moving to a glitzy Miami suburb, Ari seizes his unexpected chance for reinvention.

Enrolling in an opulent Jewish academy, Ari is stunned by his peers' dizzying wealth, ambition, and shameless pursuit of life's pleasures. When the academy's golden boy, Noah, takes Ari under his wing, Ari finds himself entangled in the school's most exclusive and wayward group. These friends are magnetic and defiant—especially Evan, the brooding genius of the bunch, still living in the shadow of his mother's death.

Influenced by their charismatic rabbi, the group begins testing their religion in unconventional ways. Soon Ari and his friends are pushing moral boundaries and careening toward a perilous future—one in which the traditions of their faith are repurposed to mysterious, tragic ends.

Mesmerizing and playful, heartrending and darkly romantic, The Orchard probes the conflicting forces that determine who we become: the heady relationships of youth, the allure of greatness, the doctrines we inherit, and our concealed desires.


Excerpt
The Orchard

Epigraph

Our Rabbis have taught, four entered into The Orchard. They were Ben Azai, Ben Zoma, Aher, and Rabbi Akiba. Ben Azai gazed and died. Of him it is written, "Precious in the eyes of HaShem is the death of his pious ones." Ben Zoma gazed, and went insane. Of him, it is written, "Have you found honey, eat your share lest you become full, and vomit it up." Aher became an apostate. Rabbi Akiba entered, and exited in peace.

—Hagigah 14b

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale"

Prologue

"Is tragedy dead?"

This is what I asked Mrs....

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Despite expressing skepticism, Ari and his friends consistently participate in Evan's experiments. To what extent is each member of the group accountable for the events that unfold? Does their participation reflect any genuine belief in Evan's theories?
  2. Rabbi Bloom involves himself in the lives of his students, revealing a particular interest in pairing Evan and Ari. Was Rabbi Bloom correct in likening Evan and Ari? And how do you view Rabbi Bloom's motives—is he sincere and well-meaning, or does he overstep critical boundaries?
  3. In the essay with which Ari applies to The Academy, he writes: "Happiness shall elude you, and yet you shall pursue it. We never reach permanent happiness, but we move steadily after its shadow, both ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The quest for knowledge leads to the plot's crisis, not teenage hijinks as one might expect in a typical book of this genre. This aspect transforms the novel from simply a well-written but forgettable tale into one that settles in the mind and heart, requiring rumination long after turning the last page. As remarkable and thought-provoking as The Orchard is, there are still aspects of it I found challenging. The meat of the book occurs so late — past the halfway point in a relatively long novel — that I was getting bored by all the teenage angst (been there, done that, no desire to relive it) and almost abandoned it. Fortunately, the second half of the narrative is worth the effort — in spades. The book will most likely appeal to readers who enjoy novels with depth, those they have to think about for a time after they've finished them — it compares well to Donna Tartt's debut, The Secret History...continued

Full Review Members Only (733 words).

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
Picture The Secret History but instead of an elite college campus, an elite Jewish high school. Instead of rural Vermont, Miami. And instead of a commandeering classics professor with a penchant for bacchanalia, a rabbi using religion to push his students.

Publishers Weekly
[A]mbitious...Though the students' lengthy philosophical and scriptural debates initially seem ponderous, their thematic connections become increasingly apparent as the novel nears its moving climax. This isn't your average campus novel, and despite its lumps, is all the better for it.

Library Journal
Though Hopen presents a somewhat formulaic story of the journey from child to adult, he renders it compelling by inserting discussions of Jewish and other religious traditions and making mental health—or lack thereof—a central theme. He clearly conveys the painful transition his characters experience. Readers of coming-of-age narratives will enjoy.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Overall, Hopen's debut signals a promising new literary talent; in vivid prose, the novel thoughtfully explores cultural particularity while telling a story with universal resonances. A captivating Jewish twist on the classic American campus novel.

Booklist (starred review)
This is a brilliantly conceived and crafted coming-of-age novel of ideas, replete with literary and philosophical reference...Unforgettable.

Author Blurb Kevin Wilson, author of Nothing to See Here
The Orchard is a wildly ambitious, propulsive novel touching on big, life-altering topics, but David Hopen manages that weight by never losing grip on the story, which blends philosophical questions with a unique thriller and a group of teenagers who command your attention. At the heart of the novel there's a yearning, a reckoning with those moments when we transform and when we wonder if we can ever go back. I'd be so wary of comparing any novel to Donna Tartt's The Secret History, but The Orchard can handle it because it diverges in such interesting ways.

Author Blurb Susan Choi, National Book Award winning author of Trust Exercise
David Hopen's riveting debut joins the urgency of a thriller with the devastating consequence of a spiritual crisis for its hero, who is no less imperiled by his religion than by the threat of its loss. In Ari Eden's story the clash between youth and experience, godlessness and piety, individualism and conformity, will feel both devastatingly familiar and utterly new. The Orchard throws open the doors to this world, and introduces a major new voice.

Author Blurb Nathan Hill, author of The Nix
I guess it would be accurate to call The Orchard a coming-of-age story, or a fish-out-of-water story, or a clash-of-cultures story, or a crisis-of-faith story, or a false-prophet story—the truth is, The Orchard is all of this and more. It's a story of profound intelligence, a story of tragic grandeur, and a story unlike any other I've ever read.

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Beyond the Book

The Legend of Pardes

Rabbi Akiva In David Hopen's novel, The Orchard, the main action is set in motion by a discussion of the Jewish legend of Pardes. In the tale, four celebrated sages enter the orchard, but only one emerges unscathed by his encounter with the divine.

The word "Pardes" comes from the ancient Persian word pairidaeza, which refers to an enclosed garden. The Pardes legend can be found in the Tosefta, an anthology of laws attributed to Jewish sages gathered between 0 and 200 CE, and the Talmud, the central book of rabbinic law, the first component of which — the Mishnah — was published around 200 CE. The legend is traditionally interpreted as a warning against the study of mysticism, and is meant to contrast the actions of three historic ...

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