The Doorharp

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The story Ilana Davita Chandal is the only daughter of Michael and Anne Chandal.

Michael is a catholic, but turned communist. He is a journalist and writes a lot about (political) injustice in the world. Ilana's mother is a Polish Jew. She grew up in an orthodox Jewish family in Poland. Later, she went to Vienna and after that to the United States. Now she is an non-believing Jew. She and Michael share the Utopian ideas. Usually in the evenings, there are meetings in their apartment. People come to their apartment to talk about political injustice in Europe, with an accent on Spain.

Ilana is very studious, and when she doesn't understand something, she looks it up in a dictionary or an encyclopedia. So she knows a lot about politics while she is so young.

Her Parents are continually moving from apartment to apartment. Usually they don't stay longer than ± three months in the same apartment.

So Ilana can't make good friends for long. There is no stability in her life. The only things that never changes, are two objects, always hanging in the same place; A doorharp and a picture of three galloping horses on the beach. One day a friend of Anna, called Jacob Daw, comes to their apartment. He tries to escape from the Nazis. He is a writer and writes strange stories about injustice. Most people don't understand his stories. One night, 'Uncle' Jacob tells Ilana a story about a bird, who lives in a country with a beautyful nature and music playing the whole day. The people are always making war. They don't realize that they are doing wrong things, because they hear beautiful music playing whole day. So the bird blames the music for the war and thinks when the music will stop the people will come to their senses. Ilana dislikes the end of the story and she and her parents don't really understand it.

When it is summer, Ilana and her parents go to a cottage by the sea. Ilana is building a sand-castle. For her, it is a protection against fascists on the other side of the ocean. Every time the castle is gone, she rebuilds it. Than Jacob Daw comes to their cottage again. He's also very ill now. He tells a story about horses in a valley. There is a group with powerful black horses and a group of white horses. There is one grey horse, always alone. He wants to be with the black horses. Then he is struck by lightning and dies. Ilana doesn't like it and dreams about it.

Micael has to go to Spain, he is sent by his paper, he has to write articles about the war. Jacob is also going. Ilana doesn't like it. Her father, Jacob Daw and Aunt Sarah, Europe is devouring all the people she loves. She sees Europe as the country of Baba Yaga. (A Russian folk-tale about a witch.) Ilana and her mother go to a new apartment in the city. Ilana meets the girl next door, Ruthie Helfman, who is also Jewish. Ilana is very interested in the Jewish religion. She wants to read the Torah and she wants to learn Hebrew. The Helfman family help her and give her books. Ilana doesn't like her own school, it is boring and to easy. Sometimes Ilana goes to the Yeshiva. There she meets Ruthie and David Dinn, a nephew. His friends are not very kind for her because she isn't a real Jewish girl and she doesn't understand everything.

There comes a message that Michael is badly hurt in the war. He comes home, with aunt Sarah, who nurses him. Her father slowly gets better and is preparing himself to turn back to Spain. Ilana doesn't want him tot go back, but then her father tells her about a traumatic experience he once had in Centralia. A member of a radical union was killed in a terrible way by members of his opponents. Her father tells that there are two kinds of America, that is what he realized that day. And he knew to which kind he belonged.

That is why he is going back to Spain. He doesn't want fascism in his country, and the place to stop it is Spain. Ilana gets a letter from Jacob. It continues the bird-story. The bird visits a country where there is also music and a war. This can't be the source of the problem. So the bird flies away, across the ocean, still looking for the source.

Then there is a bombing on a town, Guernica. They are not sure if Michael is still alive. Then they hear that he died because he wanted to save a nun.

Ilana decides to say Kaddish for her dead father. Quite unconcerned, it isn't normally done by women. Now she also wants to know exactly what happened in Centralia. Finally she finds it in a book. She gets scared so much that she becomes ill.

When Jacob Daw comes back, he finishes the story to Ilana. The bird flew back across the ocean, shrinking smaller and smaller. In a house he hears the nice sound of a doorharp, singing. He nestles in the doorharp.

Then Jacob is sent back to Europe. Ilana can't accept it and she collapses. She is taken to a farm, nursed by aunt Sarah. She has a wonderful time at the farm. When she comes back to school, she won't do anything. People totally ignore her. She walks away from school. Then her mother decides on the recommendation of Mr. Dinn to sent her to the Yeshiva. At this school they accept her and she becomes one of the best pupils.

One day, Ilana is in a museum with her classmates. She sees a painting of Picasso, 'Guernica',with screaming people in the war, and a bird. Than she doesn't feel well. In her mind she takes the bird with her and it still nestles peacefully in her doorharp, next to the other bird of Jacob Daws' story.

Ilana's mother becomes very ill, first she has to go to the hospital, than she also goes to the farm, nursed by Aunt Sarah. When she comes back she feels much better and decides to marry Mr. Dinn. So Ezra and David settle in their appartment. For Ilana it is very confusing to get a new father and a brother, with other habits. Ilana gets the doorharp in her own room.

Jacob is very ill now. In his last letter he warns Ilana she has to keep her eyes and the birds eyes wide open. Then he dies. Anne is going to say Kaddish for him, because nobody else is doing it. She can't say it in the same room with men, so there is a wall. Ilana is very indignant; 'Walls are laws to some people and laws are walls to others'(blz 326).

When David is in the last year of the Yeshiva, he wins a price. There has never been a girl who won a prize at the Yeshiva. Ilana wants to win the Akiva, because then she is the first girl. She has the highest graduations so she deserves it. She wins two awards but not the Akiva. They won't give it to a girl, that is bad for the name of the school. She is very disappointed, indignant and angry. For the first time in her life she begins to understand how a single event could change a person's life. Now she understands why her father and her mother had changed. She had wanted to be a hero and she had wanted to enter Jewish history, but they won't let her in. Now she would try to find the side of the world that wouldn't hurt people and goes to a public highschool. When her mother gets a daughter Ilana takes the baby in her arms and she starts telling the never-ending story of two birds and some horses on the beach.

Characters Ilana Davita Chandal The maincharacter of this story. She has had a hard life. She is a very serious girl. When she is a young girl, she is immediately faced with reality. She grows up with politics and the war in Europe. Most girls of her age have no idea what happens in the world, they can play and they can be the children they have to be, but Ilana has never been a real child. It is as if she is born as a little adult. She has never played with friends. She has never had the chance to make good friends, because her parents are continually moving from apartment to apartment. So she doesn't have stability in her life. The only things which never changes are the door-harp and the picture of the horses at the beach. She is really attached to these things.

Ilana is a very intelligent and studious girl. When she wants to know something which nobody wants to tell her, she looks it up until she knows it. Sometimes it is all too much for her, for instance when her father dies. She collapses and would never read the papers anymore. She had always had a warm and good relationship with her father. They always hugged each other, she never did that with her mother.

Ilana is also very interested in Jewish habits. She wants to learn Hebrews and reads the Torah. Her mother doesn't like it but Ilana doesn't care. At her own school she doesn't like it, because it is boring and all to easy. She also doesn't have friends at school. The children don't want to talk with her because she is such a strange girl. when she can go to the Yeshiva she can be the girl she wants to be. She can study as much as she wants. But she has a target to work for. She is much confronted in her life with the difference between man and woman and now she wants to be the first girl who wins the Akiva. So that she becomes the best pupil of her class and everybody can be proud of her. When she can't get the prize, caused by the fact that she is a girl, she is so angry, than she understands why her father, mother and Uncle Jacob changed their life after a single event; "How could a single event like what happened in Centralia change a person so much? And why changes my mother from an observant Jew to a Communist? I couldn't imagine events that would so change an individual" (blz 176, 177 from the book) After she understands this, she decides to do to a public highschool. She understands that she can't fight against the Orthodox rules.

Anne Chandal Ilana's mother. She was born in Poland. She grew up in a very Orthodox family. Her father was very strict. She hated her father. When she was older she stopped believing in the Jewish religion. She says that religion is a dangerous fraud and an illusion. It prevents people from seeing the truth and expressing their discontent, and sometimes it inflames the heart so that people follow horrible ideas like fascism. That is one reason why she doesn't like it that Ilana is so interested in religion.

When she became older she went to Vienna. It was during the war. She was raped there, and had a terrible time. She met Jacob Daw there who helped her. After Vienna she went to the USA. After all the terrible things which happened in her life she had lost her faith in religion. But when Jacob Daw dies, Anne wants to say Kaddish for him, while she doesn't trust the religion anymore.

Anne has such a bad memories about her former life that she doesn't want to talk about it with Ilana. Sometimes everything is too much for her and twice she became very ill. When Michael dies she has to go on, but it is so hard for her. She misses the love of a husband. She gets a friend and wants to marry him, but Ilana doesn't want it. Than she marries Mr. Dinn, he has always been a good friend of her and has always helped her in hard times.

Michael Chandal Ilana's father is a journalist and writes a lot about the war in Spain. His life has changes after the terrible things happened in Centralia. A radical union member was lynched by his opponents. Now he understands to which group he wants to belong. This is why he really wants to go to Spain. He wants to 'fight' against the fascists, against the wrong kind of people. Michael has always got a good and warm relationship with Ilana.

Jacob Daw A friend of Anne Chandal. He is an author, but most people don't understand his stories. He tells Ilana a never ending story about a little bird, who is always looking for the source of cruelty. Finally the bird finds peace in the doorharp. I think this is a discription of Jacob Daw himself. He is looking for a safe and warm place, (what he finds by the family Chandal.) Theme The theme of this story is to show the injustice in the world and the terrible thing what happened in the war and what people can do to each other. The cruelty in the world.

For Michael and Anne this is a target to work for. Also Jacob Daw discribes the cruelty in his stories (on his way). The bird in his story, Jacob Daw himself, is looking for the source of the cruelty in the world.

This novel also shows the subordinate position of the woman by the Jewish people. Anne has fight against it and became a feminist. At the end of the novel Ilana comes to the same conclusion. She doesn't wins the Akiva, which she deserves, because she is a woman. She is confronted with the same things her mother was confronted with when she was young.

This like Jacob Daws' story of the horses. The grey horse wanted to belong to a group, while he was different. It isn't possible to belong completely to a group. This is what Ilana discovered at the end of the story and what Jacob Daw and her parents already discovered. Every group has got his good and bad sides. In politics and in religion, at school and in families.

Title The doorharp describes the seclusion and the safety in their family. When you enter the house, you hear the nice sound of the singing doorharp. You get a pleasent feeling. The doorharp is very important for Ilana.

My opinion It is a fantastic book! I really enjoyed it. The story was very good. I liked the subject and the theme of the story. It shows the Jewish religion on a different way. It shows the bad sides of the religion, about the female Jew. I think I have learned a lot about the book. It was a good way he wrote about the cruelty in the world and the discription of the bird. It is a special way to explain it.

There were also a lot of similarities with the book 'My name is Asher Lev', for example, both main characters are very bright people and have a very special life.