My Name is Asher Lev

My Name is Asher Lev

by Chaim Potok
Publisher: Anchor Books
Trade Paperback, 384 pages
Price: $16.95

1950s Brooklyn is foreign enough, let alone an Hasidic community in Brooklyn led by a charismatic rabbi. My Name Is Asher Lev deals with a young man struggling to reconcile his place in the community with his standing in the broader world, from an artist's point of view. Asher Lev is a brilliant young painter drawn both to the traditions of his people and to his own imagination and creative endeavor—instead of universal acceptance, however, he often meets only with universal criticism and ostracization.

The conflict centers around a painting Asher calls Brooklyn Crucifix, which offends both Jews and Christians, while simultaneously being hailed as a work of genius. Because the woman in the painting is his mother, the repercussions within the Hasidic community are even stronger than if he'd simply co-opted Christian imagery. Asher's attempts to be true to his faith and artistic vision explore the nature of art and the artist, including the angst that accompanies the pursuit of honest and great achievements.

Part of the appeal of Potok's novels are his firsthand accounts of 20th century Hasidic life. For many of us, involvement in a religious community means Sunday church and weekday Bible studies, but for Hasidic Jews, especially those living in the first half of the 20th century, religious community saturated every aspect of existence. This wholesale permeation applies equally to artists, who cannot divorce existence from its portrayal. Potok offers insight into both existences with typically breathtaking results.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating:
FLAWS: Attitude, sensuality
Summary: Asher is a young Jewish painter pushing religious and artistic boundaries while attempting to reconcile his commitment to both.

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