Monday, August 5, 2013

Potok Prevails!

I devoured Chaim Potok's sequel to My Name is Asher Lev, called The Gift of Asher Lev, as well as his first novel, The Chosen, in just one week.  They were both riveting novels - highly recommended.

The Gift of Asher Lev fast forwards about twenty years in Asher's life, and we now find him a married man with two children, and an internationally known and successful artist. Having been exiled to France after creating art as a young man that was seen as a desecration to his Ladover Hasidic community, Asher is now more at home in France than he is in the neighborhood in which he grew up in Brooklyn.  Asher receives word of a death in the family, and needs to return to Brooklyn for just a few days, which turns into several months.  Torn between the desire to create community for his children and reconcile with his parents, and to live a more free and unrestrained life in France, the book navigates loyalty to family and how this can conflict with one's own self preservation.  There are many touching scenes in the book between the characters, thus making it come to life in a way that My Name is Asher Lev did not achieve.  Overall, I suggest reading the two of them together - you won't be able to put them down!

I read The Chosen probably twenty years ago in high school, and I am happy that I took the time to read it again.  The book follows the friendship between Reuven and Danny as they come of age. Reuven lives with his widowed father, who is supportive of his wish to become a rabbi, and who himself has Zionist beliefs.  Danny's father is a rabbi and a highly religious Hasidic Jew, who has raised his son in silence and only communicates with him about the Talmud.  Despite the fact that Danny is expected through his lineage to become a rabbi, he is more interested in becoming a psychologist.  The two boys share their experiences and hardships together, and form a bond despite their different upbringings.  We see these same two characters again in Potok's The Promise.  Again, these would be a great two books to be read in tandem!

Potok's writing is intellectual yet accessible, and brings the reader into the insular world of growing up Jewish in Brooklyn in WWII and beyond.  Not to be missed!

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