Monday night I finished reading My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok, and it left me with a fiction hangover. This book made me want to write, move, create. I recommend it if you’ve got any interest in the intersections of art and faith. I know some of my friends read it in high school, but I never had to. I wish I would have.
My Name is Asher Lev was powerful throughout, but it’s rhythm builds, and the rhythm of the final few chapters is exceptionally driving. Writing that has good rhythm is my favorite. By the end, the plot had perfectly woven together all the pushes and pulls of art, faith, family, honesty, tradition—and how an artist manages their obligations to each.
The descriptions of Asher’s parents were wrenching; Potok gives deep and heart-breaking looks into the pain involved in loving and raising a child who inevitably must become an independent person and possibly go their own way. This insight comes from the fact that Potok experienced many of these same struggles in his own fascinating life:
While his parents tolerated his interest in literature—the written word, after all, was the foundation of Judaism—it was, they made clear, no fit vocation. “You want to write stories?” Mr. Potok recalled his mother’s telling him. “That’s very nice. You be a brain surgeon, and on the side you write stories.”
This novel was utterly convincing, and it left me wanting to see Asher’s amazing paintings—not just the versions of them that are in my mind’s eye.