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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.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 26, 2008 6:16:39 PM PDT
V. Hughes says:
Posted on Jul 11, 2011 7:21:55 PM PDT
Roger Brunyate says:
Good review! You know, of course, that the Ladover sect is fictional, probably based on the Lubavitcher Hasidim?
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