146 of 152 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2000
I am not an artist. Nor am I a gifted person in any respect. But, for a few moments, I had a notion of what it could be like to be blessed and cursed with a talent so rare, and so special. This feeling occured when I read and delved into the world of Asher Lev.
"My Name is Asher Lev" is Chaim Potok's best novel. It is complete, subtle and passionate; devastating to its core. It tells the poignant and difficult story of Asher Lev, a New York-born religious Jew who finds the gift of painting within him early on, yet is isolated from his community due to the philosophy that Judaism, modern art, and Christianity are distinctly seperate worlds.
In my favorite scene from the book, detailing the power of Potok's imagination, Asher Lev is a young boy, who looks at his mother one day and creates a rendition of her on paper. Because she is depressed at the time, and smoking, Potok has Lev use the leftover ash from her finished cigarettes as the drawing object; his mother is created in shades of gray. A story this original, this creative, and this imaginary deserves to be read.
Potok, a rabbi, has done an excellent job in detailing a Jewish community in the United States, as well as conveying the relationship it holds with the Christian majority. Besides being a good read on art, the novel offers a fascinating glimpse into the tensions that separate two religious worlds.
"My Name Is Asher Lev" is a wonderful read and I recommended it to all.
101 of 108 people found the following review helpful
MY NAME IS ASHER LEV by Chaim Potok
A story about a young man's struggle between the secular world of an artist, and life as a Ladover Hasidic Jew, Chaim Potok's masterpiece MY NAME IS ASHER LEV is truly a classic.
Asher Lev is born to parents who are devoted to the life of the Ladover Hasidic Jew. As his mother supports and stands by the work Asher's father does, Aryeh Lev devotes his life to the causes closest to his people. Most of his life is dedicated to preserving the culture of this Jewish sect, and also to helping those who are being persecuted in other countries. He travels often, sometimes to countries as far away as The Soviet Union to help out his fellow Jew. He's rarely home, and young Asher is often angry and upset, wishing his father had more time for him.
From a very young age, Asher has a deep sense of art, and learns to express his innermost feelings through his creativity. As with any artistic genius, creating art is in Asher's blood and it soon gets in the way of his schooling and his religion and culture. His parents are not happy with the way things are going with Asher, but they tolerate his strange obsession, thinking this is just a passing phase. He will grow out of it, they think. His mother in particular does not dissuade Asher from drawing, if only to keep him happy, hoping that he would reward her with better grades in school. And with the help of local storeowner Yudel Krinsky, Asher obtains the necessary pencils and other art equipment to continue his fascination with drawing.
However, his obsession with art does not die, as his parents had hoped. The older he becomes, the more his passion with art drives a wedge between himself and his parents. He becomes more independent in the way he thinks, and soon his parents find they cannot control him. The life of a Ladover Hasidic Jew is one of structure and daily prayer and obedience to one's elders, to one's Rebbe, and to one's God. Asher lives in direct conflict with all this, although he tries to keep his daily prayers in his routines, and is often dwelling on things that pertain to his religious background.
Torn between his great desire to express himself as an artist and the need to please his parents and in particular his father, Asher's life is full of torment and guilt. But he is happiest when he is painting, or drawing, or walking amongst the masterpieces at a museum. When Asher takes up with a fallen Jew who also happens to be one of the greatest living artists in the country, Asher's artistic life goes into full swing. He lives and breathes his art, as Jacob Kahn teaches young Asher all he knows. Jacob convinces him that in order to become a true artist, he needs to live in the secular world. Again, Asher questions whether he is doing the right thing by following his passions and his God-given gift, or should he turn his back on art and follow the route of an obedient Hasidic Jew?
What more can I say about a book that has become a modern classic? Chaim Potok wrote a truly powerful story in which a person is torn between two worlds. A rare view into the world of a small Jewish sect, the reader senses the world of alienation and loneliness that comes to someone born into this society but living amongst the "goyim" that surrounds him. The author also makes the reader question whether it is better to be true to oneself, or to deny oneself the destiny that a higher being may have intended. There is no doubt that this book cannot be rated anything lower than 5 stars. Highly recommended.
50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2004
Having read "The Chosen" and "The Promise," I had to try "My Name is Asher Lev." Those first two were wonderful stories, but "Asher Lev" is such a powerful and (in the good sense) disturbing novel that it left me trembling.
I am not a Hasidic Jew -- in fact, I am a Roman Catholic priest. But Potok welcomes even the stranger into the Hasidic world so that a reader feels at home. Yet even more foreign to me is the world of the artist, for the Lord has given me absolutely no talent or vision in that area. Yet here, too, one learns to see with the artist's eye, or at least to understand.
Potok's writing becomes more and more terse as the tensions inside Asher Lev increase. He shifts themes within a single paragraph in a way that would earn a failing grade from any seventh grade English teacher, and yet he does so to very powerful effect, allowing the reader to be experience the difficulties that cause the protagonist such fear.
Asher Lev discovered that a gift of genius could be a true burden. Chaim Potok showed his own genius in allowing us a glimpse into this realm of creation.
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2002
I would perhaps not have been inspired to write a review of this brilliant book had I not read Rachel Grey's review... In general, other reviewers have said all the things I would want to say about "My Name is Asher Lev;" its exquisite writing, its heartbreaking and beautiful portrayal of a developing artist trying to reconcile his need to create with the demands of his family and his religious community - these are well covered. But Miss Grey's review moved me to respond.
Dear girl - how closely did you read this book? It does not take place in the present time; it was published in 1972, and is set somewhat earlier. Asher's family in no way represents mainstream Judaism, which I would think any careful reader - even one ignorant of Jewish culture and practice - would have understood. The Levs are Hasids, members of a small, conservative, fundamentalist segment of the Jewish world. In that respect, your identification with Asher's experience as similar to that of growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household is entirely appropriate.
Potok is not by any means suggesting that all Jews would be dismayed to find Picasso growing up in the back bedroom. He is portraying a very specific world, and through that world exploring the conflicts that an artist - one who is powerfully, passionately driven to realize his unique vision - may encounter with his family, his community, and even his own spiritual nature as a result of that need to create.
Please do read this book again, and please don't condemn Judaism or Jews - or even Hasids - for the behavior of Asher's family that you find distasteful. A work of art, a piece of literature, should not stand as a sweeping statement on an entire class of people, nor should a work of fiction be read as though it intends to make such a statement. In this case, at least, "My Name is Asher Lev" is a specific exploration of a microcosm inhabited by interesting, multi-dimensional, sometimes unsympathetic members of a minority sect. The general message to take from this book is not that Jews are intolerant of art and artists or communicate badly with their children, but the far more complex truths Potok investigates regarding the interplay of religion, family, and artistic vision.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I had never read anything by Chaim Potok when a friend recommended this novel to me a couple weeks ago. I have a feeling that I will soon be getting to know his literature very well. There are so many wonderful things to say about this novel. The reading of My Name is Asher Lev is almost a physical experience. I found it impossible to set the book aside, and upon reading the last page, I was totally exhausted.
My Name is Asher Lev is the fictional memoir of Asher Lev. Asher traces his life from the time he was a toddler being raised in a Chasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn. From the beginning, Asher has powerful artistic impulses which Asher's father looks upon as foolishness. As he grows, Ashers artistic impulses and talents thrive throwing him into deep conflict with his family and with his faith.
The novel is so powerful and well-written. I am a nineteen-year-old for years has for years felt the urge to become a writer. I have never read anything where the demands and nature of art were better captured. Also, the characterizations of Asher and his family and all of the "small" supporting characters are so apt and powerful. The evocation of the religious community that Asher lives in is compelling. There is really nothing less than perfect about this novel. My Name is Asher Lev should certainly go down as a classic.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2006
I first read this book 30 years ago, when I was in my early twenties, and have always counted it as one of my all-time favorties. I've read and re-read it countless times, and learn something knew about human nature every time I pick it up. I highly recommend it, along with The Chosen, and any other Chaim Potok literature you can get your hands on.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2003
I was hesitant to read this book at first, but I was quickly won over. My Name is Asher Lev is the story of a boy growing up as a Hasidic Jew who finds, to the great regret of his father, that he wants to become an artist. This original story is beautifully told by Potok, and I found that I could not put the book down.
Potok uses the first person to create an air of innocence and mystery from the very first page. Through the repetition of simple sentences and events, he captures the beauty of Hasidic and Jewish tradition. Without defining key terms, Potok exposes us to Shabbos, Zemiros, the Ribbono Shel Olom, Krias Shema, and other elements of Hasidim, making us feel that we are part of the culture.
Ahser Lev himself does not fully understand what is happening to him nor, often, what is going on around him. Sometimes Asher learns as he grows, such as when he gradually discovers what his father does for a living. Other times he never sees the whole truth. (An amusing example: when Asher's father is away, Asher says to his mother that he misses his father most on Shabbos. "I also miss him especially on Shabbos," his mother replies. Asher never learns -- or never reveals -- that it is a tradition for married Jewish couples to make love on the Sabbath.)
My Name is Asher Lev has inspired me to take up drawing as a hobby, something I have been toying with for a while. Although I never expect to match the fictional Asher Lev's talent, I do hope to be able to see things in new ways, to lose myself in my drawing, and to create something with my own hands. Few books have inspired me so.
I find that I am now reluctant to read the next in the series, The Gift of Asher Lev, out of fear that it cannot be as satisfying as My Name is Asher Lev. Will I find that my misgivings are unfounded? For now, only the Ribbono Shel Olom knows.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2000
While The Chosen is the more popular book, this book is just a little bit better. It brings up the tension between secular art and religion, spirituality ad culture, Judaism and Christianity, as well as fathers and sons who can't seem to communicate no matter how much they want to know each other.
Asher Lev is an artist in a Chasidic community that does not encourage artwork amongst its members. While his father is completely perplexed, the rebbe (leader) has him train with an artist friend who is secular. As he develops as an artist he begins to feel more confident with his perspective no matter how much it bothers people around him. The book ends with him painting The Brooklyn Crucifixion which uses Christian symbolism to characterize the tension between him and his parents.
Unlike The Chosen in which both fathers are ultimately understanding (even if they don't seem it), in Asher Lev, the father is perplexed. He wants to love and understand his son but he also spends much of his time yelling in confusion and befuddlement. It's almost like they both need the rebbe to be the understanding part of the father-son relationship.
The character of the artist is also a great touch, because there are always people who are for the most part secular or assimilated but respect and admire Chasidic rabbis and rebbes (a particularly famous example is Rabbi Manis Friedman who attracts a diverse range of Jews and gentiles of various religious viewpoints to his lectures and is respected if not admired by all.)
This is a much more complex novel than The Chosen and should be read by all fans of The Chosen.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2008
Following are two reviews written collectively by the students of my High School Junior Literature class, Spring 2008. The class gave the novel 3 stars, and this is how they expressed their thoughts:
1. "My name is Asher Lev" allows readers to imagine what life is like being a Hasidic Jew that has a fascination with art. Asher Lev turns out to be a very complex character. He goes against Hasidic tradition, his community, and his own father and does what he decides is best. Other conflicts are very interesting to get into; it's not only the usual conflict with one another, but also with religion, one self, a whole community, and even a mentor. As the novel progresses, you see art the way Asher sees it; something beautiful and amazing. In the end, who will he choose? Will he choose his community, family, and religion? Or will he decide to stick with what he knows best, being a painter?
2. Asher Lev is a book that teaches the beauty of life, love, art, and religion. It's about a boy named Asher Lev who has an incredible artistic gift but cannot express it because of his religion. What lies ahead of him are many challenges that will test himself as a religious person and an artist. The main character Asher Lev is very complex and will continue to develop throughout the story. Even though the book is about a Hasidic Jew trying to be an artist, it's also about finding oneself and others finding themselves through you. In this novel you will learn about how the Hasidic Jews live and what their way of life is like. Although Asher is trying to discover himself, he also has to watch out what he does because something drastic could happen to him or the community. You will find many intriguing experiences in this novel, whether they be good or bad. Watch as the story unfolds and this brave character develops into the person that he is. Once you're done reading this book, it will leave you wanting to know more.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 1996
I had the pleasure to take a seminar with Chaim Potok at the University of Pennsylvania on Postmodernism. One of the books we read was "My name is Asher Lev." Being an artist on the side myslef I was transfixed by the power this man's talent had over him. Reading this book one can't help but believe in destiny. Potok can tell an interesting story while delving deep into the human soul. A central point to the novel is a painting called "A Brooklyn Crucifixion." On the last class, Chaim Potok had everyone at his house for brunch and when I walked in, what did I see hanging on the wall but the "Brooklyn Crucifixion" painted by Potok himself! Seeing how personal this book was to him made it even more special to me