My Name Is Asher Lev

Penelope Spurr

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.

  • Perspective/Family

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.

  • Art:

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.

  • Motif:

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!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “My Name Is Asher Lev

  1. penelopespurr

    My Name is Asher Lev Part II

    9/10

    I was pleased to find that My Name is Asher Lev did not end happily. Not that I specifically wanted it to end unhappily–I would still be content if it didn’t–but the book’s unconventional storyline ended on a particularly powerful and poignant note. Like my last post, I am going to write about a couple of key features that I enjoyed.

    – Perspective: Asher Lev’s developing maturity is a significant component to the story. I felt as though I were like a sort of Harry Potter in an invisibility cloak, watching Asher Lev grow from an odd and quiet child to a sophisticated and well known young man. And while it was clear that Asher Lev was less mature (in both conversation and thought) during his younger years, I felt no desire to change that characteristic. It seemed as though Chaim Potok was saying to me, “Just wait and see. It will be what it will be.” And I did take a step back. It was beautiful to see Asher Lev’s character unravel, through suffering and through happiness.

    – Art: At the age of thirteen, Asher Lev meets a prominent artist named Jacob Kahn, who immediately sees the potential in his artistic gift. A little while into their mentor-student relationship, the two began taking trips to New York museums: “We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art every day that week. People stared at us as we walked through the vast galleries–a tall white-haired mustached man explaining crucifixions and nudes to a short white-faced red-haired boy with dangling earlocks and a skullcap” (228). I love the imagery Potok uses to describe this experience. There are two ironic images in this passage; 1) a Jewish boy studying crucifixions, and 2) the fact that he admires nude art (rather than looking at it simply because it features naked women). I enjoy imagining the expressions of people passing by who have no idea what to think of the sight before their eyes.

    My Name is Asher Lev was a deeply inspirational story. It showed me that through strong desire and hard work, a person can defy society’s expectations and negativity to follow their passion. This especially holds true to artists. I will continue to hold this book dear to my heart, as it has reinforced my passion for the arts and my beliefs in continuing what I love throughout life.

  2. penelopespurr

    To clarify: I decided not to elaborate on the ending of the book because it would give a principal feature of the book away.

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