Joyce Lagow's Reviews > My Name Is Asher Lev

My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
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's review
May 20, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: kindle-edition
Read from May 17 to 19, 2011

Asher Lev is the son of a devout Ladover Hasidic family. His father, an important aide to the Rebbe, the spiritual leader of a world-wide community of Hasidic Jews, continues in the family tradition of serving the Ladover Rebbe through traveling--meeting with other Ladover community leaders, delivering personal messages, helping to found new Ladover yeshivas in war-torn Europe, and especially bringing Ladover Jews out of the Soviet Union and into the US. Born after WWII, Asher is expected to follow in the family tradition. But to his family’s alarm and bewilderment, Asher shows no interest in a traditional life; instead, he draws, incessantly and then learns to paint. These activities are not acceptable in the Ladover community, considered at best childish and at worst demonic possession from the Other Side--in other words, evil. Inevitably conflict arises with his father.

Caught in the middle of all this is Asher’s mother, who tries to keep peace and faith with both husband and son. The book is the story of Asher’s growth from childhood to adulthood and the decisions he faces as he strives to preserve his artistic integrity--and indeed, his very life--despite the terrible pain he knowingly inflicts on those he loves the most.

I consider this the best and most powerful of Potok’s fiction. He always wrote about moral choices, but in this book, the stakes are the highest and the choices the most agonizing. It’s written in his inimitable style, with short, declarative sentences conveying the impression of the rhythm of Yiddish dialogue; his descriptions of the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn and Asher’s perceptions of something as ordinary as rain are lyrical. I consider that his characters in this book are the most complex and the best-developed of those in any of the other novels, particularly his parents but also others such as Jacob Kahn, his mentor in the art world.

This is a not-to-be-missed book.

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Reading Progress

05/19/2011 page 334

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