Monday, March 21, 2011


My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok explores a Hasidic Jewish community in post war New York and the conflicts the central character, a burgeoning young artist, creates and feels. The protagonist describes his young life in a very enclosed community and how his artistic talent and its pursuit cause strife and anguish for those around him. It begins with:

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 Crucifix. 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.

This is a compelling and profoundly interesting semi-autobiographical book which gives deep insights into the lives of the Hasidic Jews, as well as the world of art. Its characters all seem to be either martyrs to their own compulsions and strict beliefs, or to the people around. While these characters can sometimes be hard to identify with, they are portrayed by the author with a certain amount of pained love, which delivered through the first person narrative makes the relationships intimate, believable and human.

A thoroughly well written and good read.

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