My Name Is Asher Lev

My Name Is Asher Lev

4.2 75
by Chaim Potok
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A novel of finely articulated tragic power. . . . Little short of a work of genius.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Memorable. . . . Profound in its vision of humanity, of religion, and of art.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Such a feeling of freshness, of something brand-new. . . . Attention-holding and ultimately moving.” —The New York Times

“Engrossing and illuminating.” —Miami Herald

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400031047
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/11/2003
Edition description:
First Anchor Books Edition
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
71,195
Product dimensions:
5.13(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.76(d)
Lexile:
640L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

One

My name is Asher Lev, the Asher Lev, about whom you have read in newspapers and magazines, about whom you talk so much at your dinner affairs and cocktail parties, the notorious and legendary Lev of the Brooklyn Crucifixion.

I am an observant Jew. Yes, of course, observant Jews do not paint crucifixions. As a matter of fact, observant Jews do not paint at all—in the way that I am painting. So strong words are being written and spoken about me, myths are being generated: I am a traitor, an apostate, a self-hater, an inflicter of shame upon my family, my friends, my people; also, I am a mocker of ideas sacred to Christians, a blasphemous manipulator of modes and forms revered by Gentiles for two thousand years.

Well, I am none of those things. And yet, in all honesty, I confess that my accusers are not altogether wrong: I am indeed, in some way, all of those things.

The fact is that gossip, rumors, mythmaking, and news stories are not appropriate vehicles for the communication of nuances of truth, those subtle tonalities that are often the truly crucial elements in a causal chain. So it is time for the defense, for a long session in demythology. But I will not apologize. It is absurd to apologize for a mystery.

And that is what it has been all along—a mystery, of the sort theologians have in mind when they talk about concepts like wonder and awe. Certainly it began as a mystery, for nowhere in my family background was there any indication that I might have come into the world with a unique and disquieting gift. My father was able to trace his family line down through the centuries to the time of the Black Death in 1347, which destroyed about half the population of Europe. My father's great-great-grandfather was in his early years the manager of the vast estates of a carousing Russian nobleman who when drunk sometimes killed serfs; once, in an act of wild drunkenness, he burned down a village and people died. You see how a goy behaves, I would be told by my father and mother. The people of the sitra achra behave this way. They are evil and from the Other Side. Jews do not behave this way. My father's great-great-grandfather had transformed those estates into a source of immense wealth for his employer as well as himself. In his middle years, he began to travel. Why did he travel so much? I would ask. To do good deeds and bring the Master of the Universe into the world, my father would respond. To find people in need and to comfort and help them, my mother would say. I was told about him so often during my very early years that he began to appear quite frequently in my dreams: a man of mythic dimensions, tall, dark-bearded, powerful of mind and body; a brilliant entrepreneur; a beneficent supporter of academies of learning; a legendary traveler, and author of the Hebrew work Journeys to Distant Lands. That great man would come to me in my dreams and echo my father's queries about the latest bare wall I had decorated and the sacred margins I had that day filled with drawings. It was no joy waking up after a dream about that man. He left a taste of thunder in my mouth.

My father's father, the man whose name I bear, was a scholar and recluse in his early and middle years, a dweller in the study halls of synagogues and academies. He was never described to me, but I pictured him as slight of body and huge of head, with eyelids swollen from lack of sleep, face pale, lips dry, the veins showing blue along his cheeks and temples. In his youth, he earned the name "ilui," genius, a term not lightly bestowed by the Jews of Eastern Europe. And by the time he was twenty he had come to be known as the Genius of Mozyr, after the Russian town in which he lived. Shortly before his fiftieth birthday, he abruptly and mysteriously left Mozyr and, with his wife and children, journeyed to Ladov and became a member of the Russian Hasidic sect led by the Rebbe of Ladov. He began to travel throughout the Soviet Union as an emissary of the Rebbe. Why did he travel so much? I once asked. To bring the Master of the Universe into the world, my father replied. To find people who needed help, my mother said. While on his way home from the Rebbe's synagogue late one Saturday night, he was killed by a drunken axe-wielding peasant. Somehow my grandfather had forgotten it was the night before Easter.

My mother came from a family of leading Sadegerer Hasidim, pious Jews who had been followers of the great Eastern European Hasidic dynasty established by Israel of Rizhin. On her father's side, my mother could trace her family back to the Rebbe of Berdichev, one of the saintliest of Hasidic leaders. On her mother's side, the family line consisted of great scholars down to the Chmelnitzki massacres in seventeenth-century Poland, where it vanished in blood and death.

So, little Asher Lev—born in 1943 to Rivkeh and Aryeh Lev, in the section of Brooklyn known as Crown Heights—little Asher Lev was the juncture point of two significant family lines, the apex, as it were, of a triangle seminal with Jewish potentiality and freighted with Jewish responsibility. But he was also born with a gift.

I have no recollection of when I began to use that gift. But I can remember, at the age of four, holding my pencil in the firm fist grip of a child and transferring the world around me to pieces of paper, margins of books, bare expanses of wall. I remember drawing the contours of that world: my narrow room, with the bed, the paint-it-yourself bureau and desk and chair, the window overlooking the cemented back yard; our apartment, with its white walls and rug-covered floors and the large framed picture of the Rebbe near the living-room window; the wide street that was Brooklyn Parkway, eight lanes of traffic, the red brick and white stone of the apartment houses, the neat cement squares of the sidewalks, the occasional potholes in the asphalt; the people of the street, bearded men, old women gossiping on the benches beneath the trees, little boys in skullcaps and sidecurls, young wives in long-sleeved dresses and fancy wigs—all the married women of our group concealed their natural hair beneath wigs for reasons of modesty. I grew up encrusted with lead and spectrumed with crayons. My dearest companions were Eberhard and Crayola. Washing for meals was a cosmic enterprise.

I remember drawing my mother. Born and raised in Crown Heights, her family high in the ranks of the Ladover aristocracy, she had gone through the Ladover school system for girls, and had married my father one week after her graduation from high school. She was nineteen when I was born and seemed more a sister to me than a mother.

I remember my first drawings of my mother's face—longish straight nose, clear brown eyes, high-boned cheeks. She was small and slight; her arms were thin and smooth-skinned, her fingers long and thin and delicately boned. Her face was smooth and smelled of soap. I loved her face next to mine when she listened to me recite the Krias Shema before I closed my eyes to go to sleep.

I remember those early years of my life, those first years of my efforts with pens and pencils and crayons. They were very happy years; laughter came easily both to me and to my mother. We played. We took long walks. She was a gentle big sister.

I drew her walking with me along Brooklyn Parkway, her coat collar up around her chin, her cheeks flushed in a high autumn wind—two roundish spots of bright pink against the smooth fair skin of her face. In the winter, I drew her tossing snowballs at the trees that lined the wide parkway, her arm motions like those of a little girl. Often we ran through the drifts together, kicking up the snow with our galoshes, and I drew that, too.

"Oh, how pretty," she said to me once, looking at a drawing of herself jumping over a snowbank. "Oh, I like this one, Asher. You made the snow very pretty. And so high. What a jump! Did I jump like that? I'm almost flying."

In the spring, we sometimes went rowing in Prospect Park, not far from where we lived. She was an awkward rower, and she would laugh nervously whenever she fell backward off her seat from a skimming pull at the oars. But we went anyway, and often I took my crayons and pad with me and drew her as she rowed, and drew, too, the look of the water beneath the sky and the surface movements stirred up by her erratic oars.

"Asher, it isn't nice to draw your mama like this."

"But it was the time you fell in the boat, Mama."

"It isn't nice. It isn't respectful. But the shore is very pretty. How did you do that?"

"I used sand from the beach, Mama. Can you see the sand?"

And in the summer I drew her in her light long-sleeved blouses, with the tiny beads of perspiration on her upper lip and brow. Her dresses and blouses were always long-sleeved, for out of modesty the women of our group never wore short-sleeved garments—and she perspired a great deal in the heat, especially on our walks together.

"What is that on my face?" she asked, looking at one of my summer drawings of us walking through the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

"Those are the spots, Mama."

"What spots, Asher?"

"The wet spots, Mama. When it's hot, there are the wet spots."

After a moment she said, "But why didn't you draw the pretty birds, Asher? And the flowers, Asher, why didn't you draw the flowers?"

In the very early years, before my mother became ill, my father traveled a great deal.

I asked him once during breakfast, "Is my papa going away again today?"

"To Ottawa," he said, not looking up from his New York Times.

"Where is Ottawa?"

"Ottawa is a very important city in Canada." He spoke with a faint Russian accent.

"Canada is a country next to America," my mother explained.

"Why is my papa going to Ottawa?"

"To meet with people in the government," my mother said proudly.

"Why?"

My father looked up from the newspaper. "The Rebbe asked me to go."

He had been brought to America at the age of fourteen, together with his mother and older brother, and had been twenty-five when I was born. He was a graduate of the Ladover yeshiva in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. He had earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Brooklyn College and a master's degree in the same subject from New York University. He had earned those degrees at the request of the Rebbe.

He was tall and thick-shouldered. His eyes were sharp, direct, and dark. His untrimmed beard was red, as was the hair on his head. He kept his sidecurls tucked behind his ears. It was from him that I inherited my red hair and dark eyes. My slight features and thinness of build I inherited from my mother.

I came into the kitchen one morning and found him preparing the orange juice. He had his own way of making our orange juice: each of us received the juice of one orange, half a glass of cold water, and a teaspoonful of sugar. It was a refreshing drink to wake up to every morning. Sometimes I was able to determine from the way he prepared the orange juice whether or not he would be traveling that day.

He was in a hurry that morning, so I knew he would be traveling.

"Good morning," I said. "Is my papa traveling again today for the Rebbe?"

"Good morning, Asher. Did you say Modeh Ani?"

"Yes, Papa."

"Sit down. I'll make you your orange juice."

I sat down. My mother was putting dry cereal on the table.

"Your papa is going to Washington today," my mother said.

"What is Washington?"

"The city where the government of America is."

"My papa is traveling to Washington for the Rebbe?"

"Yes," my mother said. She took great pride in my father's missions for the Rebbe.

"Why does my papa travel for the Rebbe?"

My father poured orange juice into my glass. "My father traveled for the Rebbe's father, may they both rest in peace. I travel for the Rebbe. It is a great honor to be able to travel for the Rebbe."

"What does my papa do when he travels for the Rebbe?"

"So many questions," my father said. "Drink your juice, Asher. The vitamins will go away if you let it stay too long."

Sometimes he left after supper. Most of the time, he left after breakfast. My mother and I would go with him to the door.

"Have a safe journey," my mother would say. And she would add, in Yiddish, "Go in health and return in health."

They would not embrace. They never embraced in my presence.

My father would kiss me, take his black leather bag and his attache case, and leave. Sometimes I would go to the living-room window and see him come out of our apartment house and hail a cab, or watch him walk toward the building that was the international headquarters of the Ladover movement a block and a half away. I would watch him walking quickly beneath the trees along Brooklyn Parkway, the black leather bag and attache case in his hands, a copy of the New York Times under his arm—a tall, broad-shouldered, red-bearded, neatly dressed man in a dark suit and coat and narrow-brimmed hat, walking with the very faintest of limps from the polio he had been stricken with as a child in Soviet Russia.

I drew him often during those very early years. I drew him as he sat evenings with my mother, reading or talking. I drew him drinking coffee with my mother at the kitchen table. Sometimes I would wake in the night and hear them in the kitchen. Often they sat at that table late into the night, drinking coffee and talking. And I would lie in my bed, wondering what they were saying.

I drew my memory of my father and me walking together to our synagogue. He was so tall and I was so short, and he would incline his head toward me as we walked. I drew him as he prayed at home in his prayer shawl and tefillin on those weekday mornings when for some reason he could not go to the synagogue. He would stand at our living-room window, his head covered with the prayer shawl, swaying faintly back and forth, with only the edge of his red beard protruding from the white black-striped shawl.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“A novel of finely articulated tragic power. . . . Little short of a work of genius.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Memorable. . . . Profound in its vision of humanity, of religion, and of art.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Such a feeling of freshness, of something brand-new. . . . Attention-holding and ultimately moving.” —The New York Times

“Engrossing and illuminating.” —Miami Herald

Meet the Author

Chaim Potok was born in the Bronx in 1929. He graduated from Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, was ordained as a rabbi, and earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He also served as editor of the Jewish Publication Society of America. Potok’s first novel, The Chosen, published in 1967, received the Edward Lewis Wallant Memorial Book Award and was nominated for the National Book Award. He died in 2002.

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My Name Is Asher Lev 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 75 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a highschooler who was assigned 'My Name Is Asher Lev' as a summer assignment for my Pre AP English class my sophomore year and I must say that this tragic tale is brilliant. Most readers my age would take one look at this book and walk away with disgust. But I am a big fan of literature and loved it. In the beginning of the story, it got a little boring but as I read through the chapters, I couldn't put the book down. I would stay up til midnight or later reading. I can't even begin to explain how amazing this book is. It gave me unexplainable thoughts and feelings and a whole new perspective of my Catholic lifestyle. I would definitely recommend this book to people who have the same love for literature as I do.
AdamPetersen8 More than 1 year ago
I read this book in High School and liked it so I thought I'd give it another try. I was certainly glad I did. While it is not an overly exciting book, it provides an interesting & accurate view into the world of art and Judaism. I was intrigued by Asher's constant struggle in balancing the two very distinct worlds.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My Name Is Asher Lev My Name is Asher Lev by Chiam Potock is the narrative of a boy, Asher Lev, born to two very religious Hassidic Jewish parents. The only dilemma is that god has very different plans for him. From infantry, Asher Lev displayed a much sought out talent, the eye and mind of an artist. He is able to look at the world for not what it is, but how he feels it. Due to his orthodox background, Asher Lev is obligated to suppress his talent but, after time, the world realizes it is ineffective. This story tells of hardships, deals with how one with a special talent can fit in, and the ongoing battle between traditional beliefs and modern. I liked many things about this book. One of which is the author's ability to describe a person place or thing. He does not go the conventional route of just blurting descriptive words but, rather, he paints a partial picture that allows the mind to interpret in many ways. For example, the author gives very few details about Asher's mother but, with in only a few pages, he deeply conveys her essence. Sure, we may not know how tall she is or what color her eyes are but, he does give the reader a mental picture. I'm not saying that this is right or wrong but, fitting for this story. What I didn't like about this book was the length. Even though this is not a lengthy book, there are parts of it that feel like I'm forcing myself to read. For parts of the book, I remember reading scenarios such as Asher going to the store, buying butter, milk, and cheese, and then walking home through the snow to find nobody there. These passages seemed truly unnecessary to me but, thankfully this does not happen too often. I think the fundamental theme of this book is traditional vs. modern. Because Asher is a Hassidic Jew, his family does not want him painting. His father, who, I guess could be described as the antagonist, calls Asher's artwork a waste of time, foolish, and coming from the Sitra Archa, or the other side. As the story progresses, Asher begins to draw and paint more and more traditional paintings. This means, you guessed it, naked women and crucifixions. In Hassidism, this is looked down upon so, therefore, Asher's father is constantly quarreling about this with his son. Even though Asher is not proud to show these paintings, his inner artist tells him to continue. Before reading this book, I felt that I would be able to connect with this character in many different ways. I though this because I am also a Jew, not quite as observant as Asher, and I have a very strong interest in the arts but, after reading this book, I didn't feel as much of a personal connection as I would have guessed. Instead, it made me realize how much I took for granted in life. Unlike Asher, I have a very supportive family (mostly) that encourages my artistic endeavors. Although this book has it's boring parts, it was a pleasure to read.
theokester More than 1 year ago
I've heard good things about Potok's "Chosen" and it sounds like that's his book that most people have read. I enjoyed his style here and I suspect I'll pick up The Chosen to read later. Even though this book focussed on conflict between art and Judaism, it goes much deeper than that dynamic. I found myself relating many times to things that Asher would say or think. He was conflicted between his religious heritage and the "carnal" world. He was conflicted between respecting his parents and becoming his own person. He was conflicted between Tradition and Growth. He was conflicted between two things that were both "good." So much of his character development embodies principles that apply to us all. The story and the writing was very interesting and thought provoking. I enjoyed reading it. The final climax made my soul churn as I realized there was no "happy" way for things to resolve. I'm not one to beg for happy endings, but after getting so attached to Asher, I had hoped that things would turn out better. Still (not to spoil the end), things didn't end up as grim as they could have done. I believe Potok wrote a second book about Asher Lev. I may have to read that as well to see what becomes of him beyond this novel. The reading isn't "heavy", but the tone of the book is heavy. But Definitely Recommended.
ubtaught More than 1 year ago
This just goes to show you that sometimes you need to read outside your genre. I didn't think I would like the book but I sat down and once I began reading I couldn't stop. Very well written. If you don't know a great deal about the Jewish Community, you will learn something. Plus, an interesting premise. Overall, a great read and a great addition to a permanent library.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's astounding. A tragic masterpiece. Empowering and demeaning. Constrcutive and destructive. A perfect balance between demonic and angelic. The writing is lyrical, like poetry, like a song from a river, the flow of a small brook. I am absolutely captivated. I cannot remove my thoughts from this story, from this book, from this absolutely profound and all encompassing beauty of the written word. An unparalleled work of genuis. I could not praise this book enough. The depth and richness of the Jewish culture has never been put into such a narrative form. The degenerate and ugly state of our world has never been so aptly described, so powerfully illustrated. The suffering of our lot, the suffering of the Jewish people, the curses of our fathers and our father's fathers. What propels us by day and haunts us by night are all contained in this wonderful piece of literature. This book resonates inside. It is art in its truest form. No lies.. only truth... I don't have words for this book. All I have is an appreciation and recognition of its meaning and the goosepbumps and tears that it has given me. I held the book to my chest and wept for what it is. I love this book. I have not experienced writing of this caliber, this charm, this allure, in years. Not since Narcissus and Golmund by Herman Hesse have I felt the triumph of thought, the dominance of feeling, and the acceleration of the unknown, vibrating within and screaming at something inside of me to grasp them, swallow them, and become them. I have nothing more I can say about it... It held me spellbound and those moments will be forever remembered.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Judging from the reviews of high schoolers on this page this is a novel for a mature audience! This is a beautifully written, poignant story of a gifted artist and the pain it causes within himslf and his family. Don't miss it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was required to read Chaim Potok's 'My Name is Asher Lev' for an english assessment. When i started to read it it was a chore, a boring text about a child. Yet as I continued to leaf through its pages, I couldn't put it down. A deep and meaningful text about a boy with an inner passion to great for even his elders to smother. I would encourage any person facing religious conflicts to read it and it will help you find your way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My name is Asher Lev is a truly touching story of a boy with a kind of urging feeling to draw the world he saw. His Jewish family and friends could never seem to understand this need for drawing and soon, in adulthood, Asher is rejected by even his own parents. When you read this book, you stand in Asher's place and feel the torment in his soul, and the decisions he has to make between his faith of his drawing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My name is asher lev is this frequent readers favorite novel. Varied and interesting themes (paternal relationships, art, judaism, etc...) and character development make this a touching and memorable story, I even shed a tear at the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first time i read this book i was blown away. It is absolutely brilliant. I love Potok's characters and come to feel as if i know them as well as my friends. I can read this novel over and over again and never get sick of it. It is amazing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Like all his books, also this one is a masterpiece. Characters are brilliantly portrait and their relationships is a Potok special. This book turned me on to modern art, in the process discovering that Chaim Potok is also a very talented painter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read 'My Name Is Asher Lev' over 20 years ago, and it is still on my annual required reading list. Asher Lev lives the dichotomy we all have within us but most lack the courage to pursue our true calling. This book along with many other of Mr. Potok's works have helped me sculpt my existance as it is today. Don't live your life as other's think you should, live it as God expects you to no matter how painful it may be, your rewards are not from others.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book over 10 years ago when I was 12 years old. I loved it then and I still do to this day. I found it enthralling and very in depth. I have read this book numerous times and would recomend it to anyone who needs a little form of semblance added to their life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Jew and a searcher, I found My Name Is Asher Lev warm, enlightening and a boost to speaking to my own moral conflicts. To pursue a love that does not meet with strict religious values/beliefs is courageous! I will read Chaim Potok's other books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I began skeptical as the first chapter began slowly. Then it suddenly jumps off. I was captivated the entire time I was reading. I could relate to so much with Asher, being 15 and all. I extremely recommend the book to anyone at all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A wounderfull book. The book lets you meet the clash of the jewish cultural world with it secularised and christian surroundings.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the finest novels that I have ever read. The plot of a young boy who chooses to brake away from his Hasidic background to persue his interest in painting made me read on. It can be a bit slow at times, but the positives outweigh the negatives by a large margin.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With the orthodox to appreciste this story My favorite of his books is The Chosen which was made into a movie abiut the friendship between an ultra orthodox teen and an observant teen. A different view is a dvd the stranger among us about a woman detective who goes to live in the brooklyn ultra orthodox home of the rabbi to solve a murder in the diamond community
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
May i join please my old clan kicked me out im 6 moons old
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Meet a t next res5
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Whatches happily
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Padded in
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She jumped on top of the High rock, beaming. "Those old enough to catch their own prey, come forward!" She waited untill they did, then continued. "Today, GopherKit is six moons! She is now GopherPaw, and her mentor will be FoxPower! Congratulations. FoxPower, I trust that you will teach GopherPaw to the best of your ability. Clan dismissed."