My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok: 9/10
As you might have noticed, I chose a book by Chaim Potok as my second independent reading choice. I enjoyed many aspects of The Chosen, and wanted to continue reading Potok’s work. Because the book is complicated, I have chosen not to summarize but rather to write about a few interesting aspects.
The book is told through Asher’s reflection on his younger self. Unfortunately, his inquisitive manner conflicts with his parents’ expectations. In my household, my parents will gladly provide a thorough explanation for almost any concept that I ask about. In Asher’s strict hasidic household, he is taught not to question the authority of his parents, which includes asking them about their work and the outside world. Asher also grows up in the early 20th century, so his parents often mention the hardships of Jews in Russia, Stalin’s death, and other historical matters, but he is left mostly in the dark. Because of this, Asher and the reader are sure of few things, and are left to piece together others. I am amazed that Potok was able to achieve such a limited and young perspective.
It is clear from the beginning of the story that Asher has a gift for drawing. The way in which he thinks (a line here, a curve here, a little smudge, and viola– my mother’s face). At times, it almost seems as though Asher’s gift takes control, resulting in a piece he has created subconsciously. On multiple occasions, he becomes apprehensive about his own artistic mentality. Asher’s passion for art also conflicts with his parents’ beliefs. One particular instance involves his father vehemently describing his art as foolishness. Asher’s passion for studying Judaism being “misplaced” instead with art has ultimately caused him to feel alienation and isolation from those whom he loves. Multiple times I too have felt this alienation–and almost regret–for not feeling more passionate for the sciences or mathematics. However, I have learned to love the artistic aspect of my identity, and I hope Asher will eventually come to love his as well.
At one point, one of Asher’s teachers asks him to draw as much and as long as he can. Asher draws everything he finds to be important in his life: his mother, his older friend named Yudel, two children he had seen walking in the park, and others. For “some reason,” he does not draw his father. I believe this is because his father is away so often, and this absence from Asher’s portraits also illustrates his absence from Asher’s life. (If the major interactions from Asher’s life also appear in his art, does that mean that Asher’s art is his life?) I am sure that this is significant–alongside the observation that Potok has used motifs and themes of fatherhood in The Chosen.
So far, I am thoroughly enjoying My Name Is Asher Lev, and look forward to continuing my reading!