Sarah's Reviews > The Gift of Asher Lev

The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
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's review
Aug 24, 2009

really liked it
Read in May, 2011

Sketches in oils went onto those sheets of paper until I saw the painting clearly and then put it on a huge canvas, Devorah watching in tense silence as I brought it to life, her astonished eyes telling me how much she disliked it; and my father showing up at the apartment during one of his trips through Europe for the Rebbe and staring in trembling anger and bewilderment at the finished painting, his face white, and saying, 'What have you done? He did not kill him,...This is what you will show the world? Abraham slaughtering Isaac?' And I replying, 'It's how I feel about it.' And he finally excusing himself and leaving and never returning to that apartment all the rest of the time we lived there, because he was genuinely fearful of what he thought he might find on my easels and walls."...Douglas Schaeffer came to the apartment...and stared at the painting that had disturbed my father, murmured something about 'your bloody devilish masterpieces,' and with Lucien's help had it removed through the balcony doors and shipped to New York, where he called it The Sacrifice of Isaac--I had wanted to name itLegacy" (p333)

The Gift of Asher Lev is a sequel to My Name is Asher Lev in every way. It was haunting and passionate. Just as the crucifixion paintings represented what he saw of his mother's struggle between her husband and her son from the first novel, I found myself trying to foresee what painting would represent the struggle of Asher as an artist among the Ladover Hasidic Jews as an adult. Whereas the crucifixion paintings wounded his religious community, a wound that was continually reopened and thus could never heal, I hoped a third painting would be the future to finally bind the seeping wounds of the crucifixion. The struggles of Asher Lev as an artist in a world that shunned art as a product of the Other Side grew depth of feeling and meaning through his own maturity. I half expected the next painting to be a crucifixion of his own struggle between the Rebbe, the representative of the Master of the Universe, and Picasso, the embodiment of the darkest side of art, a demon. I did not predict that the painting representative of Asher's struggle would be one that had already been painted...thinking that the "huge empty umber-washed canvas" would be his gift, his retribution for the two crucifixion paintings of the first novel.

Asher was hunted by the image of his ancestor in the first book, a man who gives over his life to the service of the Master of the Universe in atonement for a heinous act. He is now hunted by a riddle posed by the Rebbe as the salvation for all the Jews, their future. And in the solving of that riddle, he is hunted with his choice. A choice that ultimately becomes the gift that Asher gives to the Master of the Universe because of his faith. A choice that ultimately atones for his own failure to reconciliation his own art and belief. A choice that atones for his own wife's past by showing her that there is a purpose to her life, the Master of the Universe does have a plan.

"Should I tell it to Devorah? Yes. I will tell it to her. Now. Listen to me my wife--
No.
She will recoil. Or she will grasp at it too swiftly, see it as the fulfillment of the Divine Plan she believes began with her years in that sealed apartment, and she will give herself to it entirely, mindlessly, dissolving herself in it, consumed by it. No. Let it come to her gradually. The Spaniard is right...telling me that some truths are best given in riddles. Sound advice. The advice of an artist's rebbe. A demonic rebbe, as it were, from the Other Side. Let the truth...be unriddled very slowly, so it does not strike with the force of lightening but is a gentle illumination, like a picture one learns to read color by color and shape by shape, one color or shape at a time."
(pp346-7)
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