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.
“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.
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