My Name is Asher Lev {Book Club}

Are you ready for the treat that is My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok? I am! I love his writing. Potok is a master at beautiful writing that keeps a story moving. I’m drawn to the themes he returns to many of his books: how to be a person of deep faith and commitment while also having gifting that might be in tension to some of the values of the community.

If you’re not familiar with My Name is Asher Lev here is a summary from Goodreads:

“Asher Lev is a Ladover Hasid who keeps kosher, prays three times a day and believes in the Ribbono Shel Olom, the Master of the Universe. Asher Lev is an artist who is compulsively driven to render the world he sees and feels even when it leads him to blasphemy. In this stirring and often visionary novel, Chaim Potok traces Asher’s passage between these two identities, the one consecrated to God, the other subject only to the imagination.

“Asher Lev grows up in a cloistered Hasidic community in postwar Brooklyn, a world suffused by ritual and revolving around a charismatic Rebbe. But in time his gift threatens to estrange him from that world and the parents he adores. As it follows his struggle, My Name Is Asher Lev becomes a luminous portrait of the artist, by turns heartbreaking and exultant, a modern classic.”

Without giving too much away, as I’ve done some research, it turns out Chaim Potok was also a gifted artist as a child and wanted to be a painter as an adult. As it does with Asher Lev, it caused conflict with his father. Unlike Asher, Potok followed the urging of his family and pursued academics, only painting in his free time as an adult. He said that of all his characters, he related to Asher Lev the most. I love knowing a bit about the backgrounds of authors and how it plays into their writings!

There is another way he relates to Asher, but if I say, I’ll give away a crucial piece. We’ll just have to wait for the end of the book to discuss it. Hurry up, month of August :). Have you gotten the book yet? Have you started reading?!

There is a quote from Picasso at the beginning of the book: Art is a lie which makes us realize the truth. We’ll also return to this as we near the end of book. Keep it in mind as you read.

I love the rich themes this book offers! Here are a few we’ll intentionally talk about — I know you’ll bring others up in the comments :).

August 12: Explore themes of tradition and spiritual leaders (roughly have finished Part 1).

August 19: Explore themes of calling/ gifting and being misunderstood (roughly have finished Part 2).

August 26: Explore themes of tensions that may exist between art and religion. Explore the ways the characters were formed (have finished the book).

Since this book is, in part, about art, do you like art? Do you like to go to art museums? What are some of your favorite artists? Are you good at drawing or painting? Would you be willing to share a piece with us in the comments? Favorite museums you’ve been to?

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I like to visit art museums at a brisk pace. I want to be the kind of person who gets and appreciates art, but I somehow missed that gene. I will say, if others explain details or facts about a piece of work, I’m glad to know them. While I know artists names, if you gave me ten pieces of art and ten names and asked me to match them, let’s just say you’d get a BIG laugh. I SO WISH I could draw, but you know there really is little talent when I’d go to draw a picture for my students on the board and there would be a collective groan. Alas. What? My blobs aren’t brining clarity to our discussion?!

How about you? Can’t wait to hear about you in the comments.

Amy

*****

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16 Comments

  1. ErinMP August 5, 2014

    Just started reading; I have never read this author before, and was very surprised that the Bangkok school librarian here found a dusty 1972 taped up copy in a back corner of the school library (I couldn’t convince Amazon that it was me and not an imposter now in Thailand as opposed to CA, so what a relief).

    I grew up around art as my dad was very into art history, and my mother was an artist all of my life–renovating, copying, original, teaching or taking classes, all mediums. Both faced some criticism from their families for their love of art; my dad because it didn’t fit his family’s mistaken idea of what a man should be into (and he had/has real talent, so that’s a shame), and my mother because there wasn’t, for some time, anyone else with artistic talent in the family, so they didn’t understand. They thought she should pursue sports or teaching like they all did, and so she did, but she always regretted not wholeheartedly pursuing her first love (apparently like the author), and returned to it after she and my dad married. I can’t imagine what that felt like since I was raised by the two of them and while I inherited the gift I didn’t inherit much of the passion. I pursue art occasionally when I’m bored, need a hobby, or when I was an emotion-ridden angsty teenager. Perhaps one day I’ll put it to good use, aside from the occasional gift to family members and to entertain the kids I babysat.

    I’ll always have a heart for art and artists (especially the misunderstood ones) , however, because of my parents. Thank God they never cut an ear off or anything though…

    1. Amy Young August 9, 2014

      Erin, loved the image of a dusty book in Thailand! Wouldn’t you love to know more of the story of that book :)?!!

      It sounds like parents have their own story when it comes to art! It will be interesting to see how some of their life themes and the themes in this book will add to what you bring to us! I come from non-artsy stock (though appreciating it) and one of my nieces has oodles of art talent. Fun to wonder where it came from and watch her develop as an artist.

  2. Denise August 6, 2014

    When we were first starting to homeschool we read, How then shall we live, by Francis Shaffer. It changed our world. We decided to give our children an appreciation of art and literature. We in fact saw art and read books we never got in our education. One of the books we read was  My name is Asher Lev. We learned soooo much. Anyway over the course of time two of my six children became art majors, one loves construction, which is its own art , another loves fashion. The last two are still forming, but art is their heart too. I believe God gave some part of our heart to beauty and we try to recreate it in our own way.

    Now to find my old copy and give this another read.

    1. Amy Young August 9, 2014

      Agreed that construction is a form of art! I love the broadening of the definition 🙂 and validating of kid. Your comment made me want to sit back and say “Whoa! the power of a book” — just thinking of the trajectory you and your husband went with your family based on Schaffers’ book!

  3. Julia August 7, 2014

    I’d love to discuss this book with you all!  I picked it up this summer and read it for the first time.  So good.  I’d like to re-read it and explore why it resonated so deeply with me.

    1. Amy Young August 9, 2014

      GREAT! I”m working on the post today about the influence of religious traditions and look forward to your thoughts.

  4. Whitney Conard August 7, 2014

    I’m so excited my home library has this in their ebook collection so I can check it out! (Did you know you can check out ebooks overseas if you have a library card back home that has ebooks? Tip of the day!) this is not a book I would pick up on my own but sounds really fascinating.

    My family has some artistic strains on both sides. We are definitely creative, in many different ways. My favorite part of our art museum back home is the renaissance religious art- I love seeing bible stories come to life. I think Christians need a renaissance of their own in redeeming the arts in order to celebrate the beauty of God and his creation.

    1. Amy Young August 9, 2014

      Whitney, I agree! I have often wondered how it is that Christians, who have the most creative Spirit living in them, can produce some of the most vapid (I don’t mean to offend, but seriously?) works of art/music/literature. I see this slowly changing in the last decade or so.

  5. Darla Unrau August 7, 2014

    Totally love this book! And I’m really going to enjoy reading people’s comments and blogs on the themes! Love it!

  6. Kimberly August 7, 2014

    Just picking it up at the library today! I can’t wait! Art has always been an interest of mine. I love art museums. I’ve always wanted to be a painter, but only started painting (oils and acrylics on canvas) this year in debriefing counseling sessions. There were images that helped me explain feelings and situations I couldn’t find words for. So helpful! I hope to keep it going. But I also love quilting, drawing, poetry and sewing clothes…

    I sat in front of Picasso’s La Guernica mural for over an hour in Spain in college. And it wasn’t near long enough! 🙂 Something in his work always speaks to me.

    1. Amy Young August 9, 2014

      Kimberly — great reminder on libraries! Ladies, do check out yours :). And Kimberly, I love the thought of using art to process. Is there any way (or desire?) to share one with us? They may be private, and if so, please feel NO pressure to share. But know that if you wondered if we’d be interested, we are :)! And your comment of sitting in front of Picasso reminded me of Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son! Have you read it?

  7. Phyllis August 9, 2014

    The Kindle library I have access to doesn’t have this one. 🙁 But, I’m still waiting for the last one to come available there, so I’ll be reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers, while you all read this. 🙂

    1. Amy Young August 9, 2014

      What a disappointment! And seriously? This is a classic. Boo hiss :). Hopefully you can still participate in the comments :). And we’ll be curious to hear what you think of Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

  8. Bayta August 9, 2014

    I just finished part 1 and am thoroughly enjoying it!  His style is amazing!  At times I find it hard to think of Asher as a 10 year old child.  He seems very grown up in the way he thinks and reflects.

  9. Jenny August 10, 2014

    Amy, I resonate with you on wishing I could be one of those people who really enjoyed art… My brain just can’t make it compute though my mother really tired to instill that love in my siblings and I as kids.  But then isn’t literature it’s own form of art? I hope so because I really love it! This book is fantastic- have read some of Potok’s others as well which are also great. I read it after I moved overseas and it impacted me powerfully but I had no one to discuss it with so am really looking forward to reading it again and getting to discuss it with others.

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