Posted by: Nathan | September 11, 2008

Asher Lev is magnificent

I’ve been wanting to write book reviews for a while now, and I’ve got a couple on the back burner. However, I’m going to jump straight to the book I just finished simply because I have to write about it. Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev is an excellent book, and I don’t use the superlative lightly. I had already read two other Potok works, The Chosen and The Promise, so I knew the man can write. However, I was unprepared for the tour de force that awaited me in Asher Lev‘s pages.

The novel is the story of a young Hasidic boy who has an incredible gift for art. His father, however, doesn’t value art and spends his life spreading the Torah in Europe (the book is set a little after WWII). Asher’s mother joins his father’s quest and studies Russian to help the persecuted Jews living in the USSR. Asher is constantly torn between his obvious talent and his religious obligations. He comes under the tutelage of a renowned Jewish artist and blossoms. The book chronicles his efforts to unify his Judaism with the secular art world.

Potok does everything well in this novel. The plot of the book is compelling. All of the characters are thoroughly created so that the reader understands each of them and relates to their competing needs. Asher Lev establishes and maintains profound emotional depth from start to finish, and it addresses deep issues including religion, art, family, and one’s obligations to the world. Potok’s style constantly brings the reader deeper into the work and is truly well wrought. This is a world that is engaging and captivating to the degree that it frequently took me a couple of minutes to extricate myself from its pages whenever I had to put the book down.

Read this book for fun. Read it to better understand Judaism. Read it for a deeper understanding of art (I learned a lot). Read it for Potok’s craftsmanship. Read it for the intrinsic value of its story. Read it because My Name is Asher Lev is one of the most impressive books I’ve read in recent memory.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for the review! Although I loved The Chosen and The Promise, I never read Asher Lev. Sounds like this should be next on my list!

  2. I read this last spring for my Contemporary Jewish Lit class and fell in love with it. Once I started it I couldn’t put it down! Definitely a must read.

  3. This is one of my favorite books and I’m glad you highlighted the best parts of the novel, which are the depth of the story and description of the characters. When reading this book I was completely consumed by it and felt that I knew each character personally. It is brilliant writing and Potok is easily one of my favorite authors.

  4. Thanks for the review, Nathan. You make me want to read more fiction.


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