Wednesday, July 17, 2013
The heart and art of Asher
My Name is Asher Lev, written by Chaim Potok and published in 1972, tells the story of a young boy growing up as a Hasidic Jew in Brooklyn who discovers at an early age that he has a gift. Asher explores his gift by starting to draw the world around him - the streets near his house, his mother, people he sees in his Brooklyn neighborhood, etc. Those around him discover that he possesses greatness. His father dismisses his work as foolishness and wishes that he spend more time on his studies and on honoring his parents. Torn between Asher and his father is Asher's selfless mother who must carefully balance her love for her son and her husband. Asher's father believes that his son should be able to control his impulse to create art, and to fight against this "evil." While Asher feels that his father has "aesthetic blindness," Asher's father is worried about what may be his son's "moral blindness." The rabbi decides to connect Asher with the great Jacob Kahn (a nonobservant Jew), who takes Asher under his wing and teaches him about many important artists and techniques. The book culminates with a big art show that Asher has in New York, in which he presents a piece that scandalizes his community, so much so that he is asked to go study at a yeshiva in Paris. I really loved this book - it is written with crystalline language and captures Asher's passion for art and his love for his family, his mother's devotion and anguish, and his father's struggle between pride for his son and a longing for his son to have followed in his footsteps. With intellectual savvy and emotional acuity, Potok has created a classic masterpiece.