Considered one of Potok's best works, it has a sequel, The Gift of Asher Lev. The first "Brooklyn Crucifixion", a work by Asher which plays a central role in the novel's conclusion, is an actual painting by Potok, who was an accomplished artist as well as a novelist and rabbi; the second Crucifixion, which is described in the book as being superior to the first, does not have a real-life counterpart.
The book is a thinly disguised depiction of the Lubavitch community. "Brooklyn Parkway", with its heavy traffic and island promenades, is a reference to Eastern Parkway. However, contrary to popular opinion, the character of Yudel Krinsky is not meant to refer to Chaim Yehuda Krinsky, one of the assistants to Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.