Tuesday, July 23, 2013
My name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
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.
This is a difficult review to write as I am sure some people will misinterpret some of what I am trying to say and call me bigoted but I am not, these are just my opinions of this book and writer, so please try to understand what I am truly trying to say or if you don't then please discuss it with me.
Firstly, I thought the actual story of Asher Lev and the Lev family was a very interesting one and was fairly well written. I thought the description of the characters were very detailed and I could visualise them quite well in my mind. I did find Asher, the main character, a selfish little brat but I assumed that is what the author was trying to portray him as. At first I could not understand why his parents let him dictate certain things to them and stop them making their own choices for their family in life (trying not to put spoilers in here) but then again, I am not religious and will never understand why someone would take instructions on their personal family choices from a Rebbe or Preacher. Somehow, the author managed to make me get their choices to a degree.
I felt the author went into just the right amount of detail over the art and the artistic visions of Asher. Any more and I would have been bored by it, thinking I was reading a factual art book. The balance was just right in making me look up some of the pieces that were mentioned in the book without droning on and on about art in general. His descriptions of Asher's art was spot on and I could see the drawings, particularly, The Crucifixions in my mind.
A good read from a main story point of view.
But, here is the controversial part. I just thought it was too Jewish. Yes, I know it was about a Hasidic Jewish person and community but I felt that the author used too many Jewish terms without offering an explanation as to what they actually meant, so alienating any non-Jewish reader, in my opinion. I also thought the overuse of the term, Goy or Goyim was rather insulting (and indeed, bigoted in itself) and was not acceptable to me. The way it was used equated to using the N word to describe an African American and which would definitely not have been acceptable either. My last observation about the story was that the detail about Jewish persecution was not required to the main story. I cannot seem to find a book by a Jewish author that does not go on and on about Jewish persecution - yes it was and is tragic but persecution happens/happened to non Jewish people throughout the world as well but they seem able to write a book without having to bring it up over and over again.
These are just my opinions of the book, I am sorry if this offends anyone but no offense is intended just my views to be discussed. 3 out of 5 from me but still worth a read and I am sure it will make for an interesting discussion at bookgroup on Thursday!