The Book of Daniel

E.L. Doc­torow
  • From the Publisher
March 21, 2013
The cen­tral fig­ure of this nov­el is a young man whose par­ents were exe­cut­ed for con­spir­ing to steal atom­ic secrets for Rus­sia.

His name is Daniel Isaac­son, and as the sto­ry opens, his par­ents have been dead for many years. He has had a long time to adjust to their deaths. He has not adjusted.Out of the sham­bles of his child­hood, he has con­struct­ed a new life — mar­riage to an ador­ing girl who gives him a son of his own, and a career in schol­ar­ship. It is a life that enrages him. 

In the silence of the library at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, where he is sup­pos­ed­ly writ­ing a Ph.D. dis­ser­ta­tion, Daniel com­pos­es some­thing quite dif​fer​ent​.It is a con­fes­sion of his most inti­mate rela­tion­ships — with his wife, his fos­ter par­ents, and his kid sis­ter Susan, whose own rad­i­cal­ism so reproach­es him​.It is a book of mem­o­ries: rid­ing a bus with his par­ents to the ill-fat­ed Paul Robe­son con­cert in Peek­skill; watch­ing the FBI take his father away; appear­ing with Susan at ral­lies protest­ing their par­ents’ inno­cence; vis­it­ing his moth­er and father in the Death House​.It is a book of inves­ti­ga­tion: tran­scrib­ing Daniel’s inter­views with peo­ple who knew his par­ents, or who knew about them; and log­ging his strange research­es and dis­cov­er­ies in the library stacks​.It is a book of judg­ments of every­one involved in the case — lawyers, police, inform­ers, friends, and the Isaac­son fam­i­ly itself​.It is a book rich in char­ac­ters, from elder­ly grand- moth­ers of immi­grant cul­ture, to covert rad­i­cals of the McCarthy era, to hip­pie marchers on the Pen-tagon. It is a book that spans the quar­ter-cen­tu­ry of Amer­i­can life since World War II. It is a book about the nature of Left pol­i­tics in this coun­try — its sac­ri­fi­cial rites, its pecu­liar cru­el­ties, its humil­i­ty, its bit­ter­ness. It is a book about some of the beau­ti­ful and ter­ri­ble feel­ings of child­hood. It is about the nature of guilt and inno­cence, and about the rela­tions of peo­ple to nations.

It is The Book of Daniel.

Discussion Questions