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The Gift of Asher Lev

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Twenty years have passed for Asher Lev. He is a world-renowned artist living in France, still uncertain of his artistic direction. When his beloved uncle dies suddenly, Asher and his family rush back to Brooklyn--and into a world that Asher thought he had left behind forever....


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Twenty years have passed for Asher Lev. He is a world-renowned artist living in France, still uncertain of his artistic direction. When his beloved uncle dies suddenly, Asher and his family rush back to Brooklyn--and into a world that Asher thought he had left behind forever....

30 review for The Gift of Asher Lev

  1. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Acting Into a New Way of Thinking “What a person does is what he is,” says the father of Asher Lev. This is the central theme of Potok’s book and, in a sense, it is the essence of Judaism. How one acts, one’s ethical impact on the world, describes everything that is relevant about a person. ‘Deeds not words’ may seem a mere shibboleth until it as taken as seriously as it is by the Hasidim for whom even the smallest and apparently trivial human act - entering a room, switching on a light, greeting Acting Into a New Way of Thinking “What a person does is what he is,” says the father of Asher Lev. This is the central theme of Potok’s book and, in a sense, it is the essence of Judaism. How one acts, one’s ethical impact on the world, describes everything that is relevant about a person. ‘Deeds not words’ may seem a mere shibboleth until it as taken as seriously as it is by the Hasidim for whom even the smallest and apparently trivial human act - entering a room, switching on a light, greeting one’s spouse or parents - has cosmic significance. In Hasidic Judaism it is punctillious behaviour toward others and towards the world - not belief, not intent, not doctrinal thought - which is the sign and carrier of one’s religion and therefore of one's self, one’s family, one’s society, one’s world. Judaism in other words, not Ancient Greece, nor medieval Christianity is the origin of what has come to be known as ‘virtue ethics’, the idea that one can act oneself into a better mode of being. Put simply: the only way to be a better person is to behave like one. And ‘better’ has an operational meaning in Orthodox Judaism - that which brings the world closer to being a suitable dwelling place for the Almighty in the form of his Messiah. This is the world of the Torah, a world of hope and trust not of blind faith and formalized dogmatics. The difference is crucial. The Torah, and therefore God in the world, lives as it is acted out. Judaism is consequently a remarkable ethos. It implies the ultimate salvation not of an individual but of the entire world based on the dedication of a quorum of individuals who choose how to behave properly toward one another. And salvation comes about not through one’s thoughts but through one’s relationships. That is to say, the spiritual force of redemption is present in human beings as a divine gift of creation which is in a way returned in kind when it is acted upon. It is possible to reject such an ethos but only by placing the power of human intellect beyond the claims of human responsibility to and for others. It is, therefore, not inaccurate, although perhaps a bit unconventional, to say that humanity is the route through which God is redeemed within his creation. As one character notes, “Without man, what is God? And without God, what is man? Everyone needs the help of someone to complete the work of Creation that is never truly completed. Everyone.” The consciousness of this force in every act is the manner in which the gift of free will is acknowledged and respected. The Messiah will arrive when the world is sufficiently prepared by human effort. Our responsibility as human beings is therefore to act appropriately. Thinking, believing, and theologizing are optional hobbies. Nevertheless, even in Judaism, conscious action can deteriorate into mere habit and stifling tradition. Behaviour then becomes fetishistic ritualism, little more than a mark of tribal membership. Its usefulness becomes that of political weapon or self-serving rationale for pursuing personal interests. Such a fate probably threatens all institutions not just religious ones. Doing things a certain way because they've always been done that way is more an ideology than an ethic. Asher Lev's artistic life follows a parallel evolutionary path to that of his Hasidic sect. Both drive towards sameness for the sake of continuity rather than for improvement in the readiness of the world for salvation. Redemption is never finished; to assume otherwise is smug - in religion as well as art. Finding a way beyond the staleness of one's own conventions is as difficult for an individual as it is for a religious community. It takes a transformation, the force of which seems to come from elsewhere as a gift. We often call this gift ‘truth’ and it may not be easy to bear, so that it “must be uncovered slowly and with great care lest its fires burn and its power destroy.” The form of this gift in Potok's story is literally a riddle posed by the Hasidic Rabbi. Acceptance of this gift - engagement with the riddle’s meaning - is also a return to its hidden source through which both Lev and his sect are renewed - artistically as well as spiritually. Then again, perhaps these are two ways of expressing the same event of a regenerated ethical awareness brought about by acting differently. It’s certainly a lot more effective than trying to think your way into a new way of acting. Postscript: Also see: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sherry

    I finished this book before I even had time to add it to my "Currently Reading" list. There will never be enough Potok in my life.

  3. 5 out of 5

    david

    When I started this installment from Mr. Potok, the room where I read it was naturally dry. Line by line, chapter by chapter, I survived the frissons of emotion. And at some point, I acquiesced. By the end of the tale, I became sober in my instability and I allowed the sorrow that has always resided uncomfortably within, to flow with abandon. We have read a few authors in his phalanx, whose pens not only release ink and words, but somehow create an internal disturbance, even in a safe environment When I started this installment from Mr. Potok, the room where I read it was naturally dry. Line by line, chapter by chapter, I survived the frissons of emotion. And at some point, I acquiesced. By the end of the tale, I became sober in my instability and I allowed the sorrow that has always resided uncomfortably within, to flow with abandon. We have read a few authors in his phalanx, whose pens not only release ink and words, but somehow create an internal disturbance, even in a safe environment while engaged in a leisurely activity. Ab initio, Chaim Potok has deeply affected my world. From youth, heretofore, he is my go-to prophet, a personal angel that descends to remind me to read his works again. He offers an avuncular arm around the reader’s shoulder, and additionally, a succor not easily found. This secular yet spiritual reader is not sure why. There need not be an answer to every question asked. In fact, most answers reveal little, and even then, they are suspect. Gratitude, over and again, for the capacity to read this person’s efforts. And that is good enough.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Spoilers for My Name is Asher Lev and this book below. Does God have a plan or are we at the mercy of an uncaring universe where bad things happen to good people? The question of whether or not the universe is ordered permeates this book, though in a rather subtle way. The book doesn't actually provide an answer to this question, but this question weighs on the minds of the characters as their world becomes more uncertain. I'm not going to lie, I thought the ending of My Name Is Asher Lev was a ma Spoilers for My Name is Asher Lev and this book below. Does God have a plan or are we at the mercy of an uncaring universe where bad things happen to good people? The question of whether or not the universe is ordered permeates this book, though in a rather subtle way. The book doesn't actually provide an answer to this question, but this question weighs on the minds of the characters as their world becomes more uncertain. I'm not going to lie, I thought the ending of My Name Is Asher Lev was a major downer. Asher ends up alienating his family and community, leaving Brooklyn to create art in Europe. He was a smash hit artistically but it seemed like his relationship with his father was irreparably damaged. Flash forward 20ish years and Asher is a well established, world renown artist coming off a commercially successful but critically panned exhibition. He is the father of two children and happily married, spending his days painting in southern France before a family tragedy calls him and his family back to Brooklyn. This book was similar to My Name is Asher Lev in terms of the writing. It is focused on Asher and his internal state of mind throughout the course of the months he spends back in Brooklyn. We see how he views his loving (but still traumatized from the war) wife, his children, his parents (whom he has reconciled with nicely, though not fully), and the community he returns to. We see him struggle with doubt stemming from the fallout of his Paris show and the balancing of his familial obligations with his drive to create art. It had some gorgeous prose and but was also quite accessible. Unlike My Name is Asher Lev, there is no tension in this book between Asher's art and the Ladover community (save for the occasional "How could you create those paintings" comments that popped up, though there were just as many supportive voices as well). Instead the main tensions seemed to be between the Rebbe wanting Asher and his family to stay longer and Asher wanting to return home to France. It slowly dawns on Asher that there is a deeper purpose to the Rebbe's attention towards Asher and especially his son, attention that will have long term effects on the entire Ladover community and Asher's family. Where the first book left me sad but hopeful for future reconciliation, this ending left me with a deeper sadness that Asher will forever be apart both from his family and his community because of the drive he possesses to create art. It is a bittersweet story of a family coming together while at the same time being separated by an ocean and a lifestyle. Much like My Name is Asher Lev, there are many side story lines that crop up: the disposition of Asher's uncle's surprisingly amazing art collection, touching base with some friends back in Southern France, his daughter's asthma, settling a debt to the family of a deceased friend, etc. These were all enjoyable diversions on their own, but unlike the previous book, they did not come together together in an elegant manner that amplified the thrust of the book's message. Instead they struck me a small, self contained vignettes. They were nice adornments but ultimately felt underdeveloped or inadequately related to the main theme of the book. Overall I thought this book did no live up to its predecessor. It still had Potok's excellent prose and imagery, memorable characters, and a fascinating plot, but it struck me as a bit too loose in the plotting. Perhaps I am missing some subtle connection between all the encounters Asher had, but I never felt Potok drew the whole book together in the end with the same elegance he demonstrated in My Name is Asher Lev. It was a very good and engrossing read (hence the four stars) but I did not have the same transcendent feeling I had when I finished the first book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    D

    I liked the prequel “My Name is Asher Lev” enough to give it 4 stars. This one is more of the same: the story of what happened to Asher Lev later in life. Since I was already familiar with, and baffled by, the Ultra Orthodox faith within Judaism, the story became very boring and excessively melodramatic. The style even more so: just a dry sequence of events, almost like a police report. The characters are cardboard, each conforming exactly to a well known prototype. The only positive thing about I liked the prequel “My Name is Asher Lev” enough to give it 4 stars. This one is more of the same: the story of what happened to Asher Lev later in life. Since I was already familiar with, and baffled by, the Ultra Orthodox faith within Judaism, the story became very boring and excessively melodramatic. The style even more so: just a dry sequence of events, almost like a police report. The characters are cardboard, each conforming exactly to a well known prototype. The only positive thing about the book is that it made me wonder how Judaism can be compatible with the veneration of a (dynasty of) Rebbes that are assumed to have supernatural powers.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Syme

    A wonderful complex novel about individuality vs the community, with religion, art, family and depression all thrown in the mix. That, and mesmerising prose. Potok, you legend.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Spiegel

    I’m going to give away the end, so you may need to stop reading. But it’s the end I want to talk about. First, I adored the earlier book, My Name is Asher Lev (1972). I think it is, without exaggeration, a profound statement on the integrity of the artist. Second, everyone told me that the sequel, The Gift of Asher Lev (1990), wasn’t very good. Well, it wasn’t as good as the first, but it wasn’t that bad, either. I still found it absorbing, worth reading, and very interesting. Generally speaking I’m going to give away the end, so you may need to stop reading. But it’s the end I want to talk about. First, I adored the earlier book, My Name is Asher Lev (1972). I think it is, without exaggeration, a profound statement on the integrity of the artist. Second, everyone told me that the sequel, The Gift of Asher Lev (1990), wasn’t very good. Well, it wasn’t as good as the first, but it wasn’t that bad, either. I still found it absorbing, worth reading, and very interesting. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of sequels, though I understand the desire for them. It just seems like a sequel is inevitably disappointing, so it’s a set-up for disaster. But the thing is that we just love Asher so much—and Rocky and Han Solo and Bruce Willis (what was his name in Die Hard?)—and we care, so we want to know about their well-being, their fate. We’re suckers for sequels. If Potok had more to say about Asher Lev, I had to find out what it was. Third, what I really wanted, after this sequel, was a memoir by Potok on Potok, no doubt an interesting guy. He never wrote that memoir. The Gift of Asher Lev finds Asher to be a world-renowned artist, living in France with his wife—a nice Jewish girl—and two kids. He is still a practicing Hasidic Jew, though the religious community is pretty much suspicious of him at every turn. He is in exile. An artist and a Jew. It’s an uneasy relationship, but he manages. Then, his uncle in Brooklyn dies. He goes back to New York with his French family. A trip to mourn a death turns into months, and then there’s the decision to stay or to go. At the heart of the decision is this gift: Asher, like Abraham in the Old Testament (the book draws this comparison), will sacrifice his son. By allowing his child to stay in Brooklyn, Asher is acquiescing to the Rebbe’s (the rabbi’s) implicit decision to groom the boy to be the future Rebbe. This is the gift of Asher Lev, not his art. But Asher, despite a happy marriage and children he loves, doesn’t stay himself. He chooses his art. He returns to France, while his family stays in Brooklyn. He will return on holidays. His life as an artist is in France. Asher wonders to himself, as he ponders his gift, whether the Rebbe counted “on the helpless self-centeredness of the artist’s soul.” That’s about my yearly quota for plot summary. When I first started reading this sequel, I wanted to write about anger. Asher struck me as slightly angry. I liked him, but his anger stood out. And, then, in my meanderings, I began to wonder if all artists are angry. Is anger part of it? Am I angry? I probably am. I’m not sure this is a good thing or a necessary thing, though. I just think that art—Art—often involves standing in opposition to something. That can make one angry. But there’s a lot to say about this, and I’ll save it. Rather, that end. He left his family! You know what? I think that’s B.S.! I think that sucks! The helpless self-centeredness of the artist’s soul! Even if it’s totally true, let’s resist it! When I read about Asher in Paris and Asher in the South of France, a part of me wants that. I want to sit in cafes, go to Giverny, wander through a garden. But this too is true: I’ve been to a number of exotic locations all alone. While part of it was really great, another part really sucked! Artists may be myopic, self-absorbed, possessing secret and highly privatized thought lives that allow them to seem present when they’re really not. Artists may be alienated, eccentric, given to depression even. Artists may be lousy parents, lousy spouses, lousy followers of religion. Artists may crave exotic and even solitary ventures upon occasion. But, really, this made me slightly irate. Don’t be an idiot. When it comes down to it, stay with your kid. Asher, take the family back to France or stay in Brooklyn with them. You think you’re doing your art a favor. You’re not. You’ve got a family, man. Why so irate? I guess it’s my past. I had a lot of time alone. I wrote a lot. In exotic and solitary places. Everyone who knows about my family life knows how, um, “challenging” it’s been. The last time I traveled abroad was on my belated honeymoon to Alaska. Tim and I were in Vancouver for a night or two. Then, we immediately had kids. I love to travel. I have these cravings, these fantasies: Greece, India, Tibet, Egypt, Indonesia. I’d write and write and write. I’d go on glass-bottom boats, walk through markets, sleep on cots near purple lizards. Somehow or other, I’d be okay with the lizards. But, really, where is the material, the true grist, the stuff of life? Alone in Paris? I’m sorry for going crazy. I find Potok and his unique questioning to be fascinating and appropriate and important. I didn’t love this book’s conclusion. The gift was no gift at all. How old are you? Do you remember the Eighties? Do you remember Wham!? Do you remember when George Michael used to wear those t-shirts that said Choose Life? Life is among the living. Choose life.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jana

    I LOVED this book. I think everyone one who has read My Name is Asher Lev should read this book. It took me all summer to read, basically because it is the kind of book that you linger over. I savored reading it, and really didn't want to finish. Not only are the chapters beautifully written, but the storyline balances out the difficulties Asher faced in his youth. This is twenty years later, when he has a wife and 2 children, and is now returning to the U.S. It is about redemption, hope, and su I LOVED this book. I think everyone one who has read My Name is Asher Lev should read this book. It took me all summer to read, basically because it is the kind of book that you linger over. I savored reading it, and really didn't want to finish. Not only are the chapters beautifully written, but the storyline balances out the difficulties Asher faced in his youth. This is twenty years later, when he has a wife and 2 children, and is now returning to the U.S. It is about redemption, hope, and surviving both the peaks and valleys of life. I am sure one of the reasons I love this book is because as an art historian, I am interested in understanding Asher's art and his quest to make it meaningful. I think though, in a broader sense, Asher's situation applies to anyone seeking to foster creativity and beauty in their lives and come to terms with day-to-day spirituality. How do we make sense of God's apparent absence? How do we go on in faithfulness despite the inexplicable evils/trials/difficulties? This is Asher's dilemma and Potok presents it thoughtfully--without cliched, empty answers, but with a underlying sense of the power of resilience and optimism.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Doug Bradshaw

    **SPOILER ALERT ** This review talks about some of the main plot lines in the book. These books are full of excellent symbolism, from Asher's crucifixion paintings connoting the suffering of especially his mother but perhaps of the whole Jewish community, to his picture of Abraham with Isaac, Isaac actually being sacrificed. I think about Asher's father being full of rage seeing the pictures, and I think of a man who hasn't learned much in life, unable to understand anything except extremely cons **SPOILER ALERT ** This review talks about some of the main plot lines in the book. These books are full of excellent symbolism, from Asher's crucifixion paintings connoting the suffering of especially his mother but perhaps of the whole Jewish community, to his picture of Abraham with Isaac, Isaac actually being sacrificed. I think about Asher's father being full of rage seeing the pictures, and I think of a man who hasn't learned much in life, unable to understand anything except extremely conservative interpretations of the Torah done by generations past. Knowing that Chaim Potok was a Rabbi lifts the book to a higher level. He must have been much like Asher, able to have a complete understanding of all levels of living the religion and at the same time, able to express the obvious pitfalls and problems with such a conservative way of thinking and living life. I'm almost thinking maybe he was trying to get his people to become a bit more understanding and to be careful how they judge and handle their own who step outside of the box. To me, he painted Asher as the finest most moral person of all of them, the extreme opposite of good old Yonkle. To some extent, the Rebbe exhibited this kind of careful behavior with both Asher and Jacob, still loved and accepted them. However, when he banished Asher from the community, I felt his actions were a bit extreme. How about moving to Midtown instead of France? I have read that many Jewish groups have banned these books and look down on them. This is not surprising because there is no doubt a lot of criticism of the conservative and blindly obedient behavior that is portrayed here by the leaders and conservatives in both of these books. And yet Asher stays true to the teachings and continues to honor the wishes of the Rebbe, so much so that he is willing to give Avrumel to his father and the Rebbe for the sake of continuity in the leadership going forward. In my opinion, this is no gift, it is Abraham sacrificing Isaac just as in Asher's painting and really, as has been done to Asher ever since he wanted to become an artist. Asher is Isaac who has been sacrificed because it is The Master of the Universe's will and Asher still believes it to the point that he obediently allows it to happen. So for me, this sacrifice is supremely unfair and wrong and shows how selfish and blind those people leading cultish types of religions can be all the while believing they are doing the right thing. It is the worst thing about religion. And I think of the extreme Muslims and their suicide bombings. A step worse than how Asher is treated and taught, but comes out of the same extremist and horrible thinking. I ended up loving Asher and caring about him very much. I wish that he would have been chosen Rebbe. Now we'd have a religion worth liking.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Austin

    I really wanted to like this book, because I loved 'My Name is Asher Lev.' Unfortunately, this book just wasn't nearly up to snuff. To begin with, nothing happens. Asher, the main character, in particular is static. The entire book he has painter's block, so he just mopes around as is depressed. A large portion of the book is also flashbacks (which in the case of his wife are sometimes pretty interesting and touching--her character is a good new one to get to know) or else Asher's intuition abou I really wanted to like this book, because I loved 'My Name is Asher Lev.' Unfortunately, this book just wasn't nearly up to snuff. To begin with, nothing happens. Asher, the main character, in particular is static. The entire book he has painter's block, so he just mopes around as is depressed. A large portion of the book is also flashbacks (which in the case of his wife are sometimes pretty interesting and touching--her character is a good new one to get to know) or else Asher's intuition about the future. But... the future never comes, even at the end of the book. The situation is almost the exact same at the end as it was at the beginning. Oh and for some reason now Asher is having hallucinations of old friends who have died and speaks to them; he doesn't seem to find this strange at all. Stylistically, I was really bothered by frequent switches between past and present tense narration. Usually Potok at least waited until new vignettes to switch tense (there aren't many chapters, but they are broken up into non-numbered subsections delimited by a blank line), but sometimes he does it just between paragraphs, and once even within a paragraph. Gah! Also, Potok's sparse writing style was intermixed with a lot of attempts to describe random situations (a Paris street, for example) in "literary" detail. It didn't work well. The bright spots were the wonderful bits of Jewish wisdom and theology that were discussed at a few points in the book, the new characters of Asher's young family, and a few times the talk about art had some good points. But really, just stick with the first one and skip this sequel.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Aranda

    It was nice seeing what happened after the first Asher Lev book. In my opinion, this book wasn't as good as the first. The biggest issue I had was that Asher Lev didn't fight more to let his son be able to choose his own path since that is what he himself had to do. That being said I understand that this would be a great honor for the family and it would be great for Asher to gain the affection that he lost from the Hasidic community.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elijah

    I could have rated it five stars before I read it. "Riddles, puzzles, double meanings, lost possibilities, the dark side to the light, the light side to the darkness, different perspectives on the same things. Nothing in this whole world has only one side to it. Everything is like a kaleidoscope. That's what I'm trying to capture in my art. That's what I mean by ambiguity." Twenty years after the events of My Name Is Asher Lev, Asher Lev, the rebel, trouble-maker, and genius, is called home to I could have rated it five stars before I read it. "Riddles, puzzles, double meanings, lost possibilities, the dark side to the light, the light side to the darkness, different perspectives on the same things. Nothing in this whole world has only one side to it. Everything is like a kaleidoscope. That's what I'm trying to capture in my art. That's what I mean by ambiguity." Twenty years after the events of My Name Is Asher Lev, Asher Lev, the rebel, trouble-maker, and genius, is called home to Brooklyn for a funeral. He is reliving the past, and it's killing his inspiration. I read the first half of this over the course of 3 weeks; then I read the second half yesterday. I finally buckled down to finish it, lost myself. You cannot read Potok books broken up into chunks, or you'll miss the deep yet subtle connections between everything. His writing is like honey, thick with detail and hard to process in gulps. You have to drink it in slowly. And if I give him focus, Potok will start to shape the way I see the world around me. Small details noticed, a dissection of everyday interactions, and an indescribable feeling that I'm only an observer on the world. The moods and emotions he crafts in his stories begin to affect my own moods and emotions. This book in particular is by far the most Slice of Life version of his style I've yet read. Very little happens in the middle of this book. It paints Lev's wandering with strokes so that the reader feels it as well. Every detail that Potok points out places you into the artist's mind, looking at the world in the way only an artist can. I do not read many Slice of Life books, but Potok's use of specificity makes for such rich writing. But hardly anything about this book is concrete besides the writing. Everything floats, like we're in Lev's thoughts. The words flow in a stream of consciousness, all leading to a single wide river, but no stopping point. The end of the book doesn't end the lives of the characters. The rivers will keep on flowing. I'm still struggling with what this book is trying to say. Do I agree with it? What is it even saying? It's the most ambiguous of Potok's works that I've read--like a mystery to uncover with clues on every single page. It's a riddle. And I realized in reading this book, that I completely stole Potok's style. The narrative flow reminded me of my own writing exactly, if my writing quality was magnified by a hundred. It scared me, because I felt a strange detachment from the words, a distance, at least at the beginning of the book. Then I was drawn in. It still worries me. I decided that it was inevitable I would cry after the first chapter. Starting the book was like meeting an old friend; and at the end of the reunion I was supposed to burst into tears like I did with My Name Is Asher Lev. All the signs were there: the rising tension at the end, every thread coming to a climax in the final pages when there weren't enough pages left for a happy end to everything. Then I finished the last page and stared at the ceiling for a long while. It didn't end the way I wanted it to, but it ended in the right way. I actually debated with myself whether it was really worth five stars; something felt off about it. But I can't do that. If this book was under a different name I would have no problems with giving it five stars and marking it as a favorite book. But this was a Potok, and I expected a lot. It's still worth the five stars. Maybe not worth the favorite. It's a tough book to read. Little about The Gift of Asher Lev is underwhelming--don't think I meant that. This book is like a flood, far more than you ever could want. Far more than is easy to dissect. There's too much to be able to understand the ambiguity in one reading. Like Asher Lev's own art, not everyone gets it. No one will fully understand it besides the author. This book is a riddle.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Summary: Asher Lev, exiled from a Brooklyn Hasidic community over a scandalous artwork portraying crucifixion, returns after twenty years with his family for the funeral of his uncle, only to find that he is being called upon to make a far greater sacrifice than the pain of exile. I first became acquainted with the work of Chaim Potok in the 1980's. His novels were set in the Ladover Hasidic Jwish community of New York. One of these was My Name is Asher Lev and describes the awakening of a Jewish Summary: Asher Lev, exiled from a Brooklyn Hasidic community over a scandalous artwork portraying crucifixion, returns after twenty years with his family for the funeral of his uncle, only to find that he is being called upon to make a far greater sacrifice than the pain of exile. I first became acquainted with the work of Chaim Potok in the 1980's. His novels were set in the Ladover Hasidic Jwish community of New York. One of these was My Name is Asher Lev and describes the awakening of a Jewish boy in this community to his artistic gifts, and the conflicts with his beliefs this raised, culminating in the scandal of painting a crucifixion scene set in Brooklyn as a portrayal of pain and suffering in the world. For this he was exiled to France, where he pursues an increasingly successful art career while remaining an observant Ladover, heeding the teaching of its venerable Rebbe. Twenty years have passed. He is married to Devorah, who after several miscarriages bore Rochelah and Avrumel. They now live in Saint Paul, near Nice where he has his studio, and a few close friends. On the heels of a show in Paris, scathingly panned by critics as "repeating oneself," he receives news of the sudden death of his Uncle Yitzchok died--the uncle who had encouraged his artistic career from buying his first drawing at age six onward. He and his family return to Brooklyn for the funeral, and a reunion with parents and a community he hadn't seen in years. At the funeral, attended by thousands, because Yitzchok had been involved extensively in efforts to fund the Ladover movement, the Rebbe makes a cryptic remark, a kind of riddle, than runs through the book. "I say this as a message from the departed and from your Rebbe. I say to you: Three will save us. The third is our future. Do you hear me, my people? Three will save us. The third is our future." On the minds of many is who will succeed the Rebbe if Messiah does not come first. He has no children. Asher's father Aryeh is the leading candidate. But the third? A week's stay extends to five months at the plea of parents who want to know their grandchildren, and a Rebbe, who takes an unusual interest in Asher, and his son. Meanwhile, Asher's life becomes more complicated when he learns not only that his uncle had assembled a valuable and unusual art collection, a scandal to his sons, and that he had designated Asher as trustee of the collection, with any proceeds from it to be returned to the Ladover community. His cousins, especially Younkel fight this and there is a painful estrangement. While Asher contends with these matters and seeks inspiration for his art, his wife and children discover Brooklyn as a place where they thrive. Devorah finds in her mother-in-law the mother she lost in the Holocaust. Rochelah, a perceptive but asthmatic young girl flourishes at summer camp, as does Avrumel at day camp. While Asher longs for a return to his work in Saint Paul, his family becomes more and more rooted in Brooklyn, and close to Asher's parents. Aryeh and Avrumel spend time together around the Rebbe's office. While back in France to look after affairs, including help to the widow of an assistant who died in a bombing, Asher begins to understand the riddle and that his son is the third and that he is being asked (even in a vision of the Rebbe and Uncle Yitzchok) to offer his son Avrumel to succeed his father when the day came as Rebbe, and to be raised in the Brooklyn Yeshiva. Brooklyn represents community to his family. To him, it is a place, once exiled from, that is impossible to return to if he is to answer his artistic call. To many in that community he is suspect, even a devil. He is wracked with this dilemma, losing sleep but sketching furiously. Chaim Potok is one of a handful of writers I've found who writes with what I would call a "quiet" voice. Alan Paton is another. There is a kind of stillness as if the writer is listening for how the story will unfold to relate it to us, a stillness with depth, where momentous things may occur in the quiet unfolding of the narrative. In this voice he explores the tensions of love and honor and estrangement in families, and in a religious community. What does it mean to be faithful to one's gift as an artist when it causes so much pain in one's community? What does it mean to observe a community's teaching and care for it when it is uncomfortable with you. In a world of moral clarity, of black and white, how does one deal with life's messiness and ambiguities, from the horror of the Holocaust to the unsolvable conflict between the future foreseen for his son, his love for his wife and daughter, and one's own artistic calling. This work, published in 1990, was one I missed as I moved on to other writers. I'm thankful to have discovered it, and to be reminded of the richness of Potok's portrayal of this religious community and the challenges faced by the deeply orthodox of any faith in a secular society. 

  14. 4 out of 5

    Molly

    This is a reread. I've been so desperate for good books this winter and have read so few and this is a good book. This is full of oh so many religious themes, and the question of what we give and what we hold back. I always find Jewish thinking although different from my own, a kind of parallel universe where the logic makes sense. I'm glad to enter again into a world of these questions.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alli Lubin

    Well crafted and satisfying but not quite as engaging as his earlier work, "My Name is Asher Lev" which was one of my all-time favorite books when I read it as a teenager. The subject of being Jewish in today's world is always thought-provoking and brings up so many memories and issues close to my heart that anything by Chaim Potok is a treasure.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)

    After revisiting My Name Is Asher Lev and finding it a disappointing experience, I don't know why I decided to read this second volume. It took some strength of character to finish it, too (or do I mean stubbornness?). I found myself trudging through the final 30 pages just to be done with it. The 1990s saw the advent of the Age of the Remake in films, TV, followon fiction etc., and this book reads like one. Asher Lev (who is still called by his full name by a startling number of his friends and After revisiting My Name Is Asher Lev and finding it a disappointing experience, I don't know why I decided to read this second volume. It took some strength of character to finish it, too (or do I mean stubbornness?). I found myself trudging through the final 30 pages just to be done with it. The 1990s saw the advent of the Age of the Remake in films, TV, followon fiction etc., and this book reads like one. Asher Lev (who is still called by his full name by a startling number of his friends and family, and indeed he himself keeps repeating aloud the title of the first book overandoverandover) is suffering from "painter's block" when he returns to New York for his uncle's funeral, wife and family in tow. As I read, I got the impression that Potok had some kind of creative block as well. For a book with so much travelling in it, the pace is tediously slow, due in part to over description and unnecessary detail, such as far too many nearly step-by-step trips through his house/apartment/hotel room etc. To top it off, the foreshadowing is clunky, and there are too many unresolved bits and pieces--not really unresolved, the author just takes the easy way out. The constant changes of tense don't help matters, and the repetitions of scenes from other books (such as the MC sleeping on the sun porch only to wake and find someone standing over him, just like in Potok's first novel, The Chosen) with slight adaptations don't either. What was the point of all those "hauntings" and hallucinations--the visions of other artists, the footsteps and whistling? I expected them to have some eventual purpose, but--nothing. I know there is a tradition of supposed bilocation among Hasidic greats, just as there was in the Catholic hagiography of the Middle Ages, but it really doesn't work. And why not call Picasso by his name, instead of always "The Spaniard"? Toward the end, the main character starts exhibiting all these physical symptoms, and I thought he was going to take to his bed as he so often did in the first book; people ask him if he's OK and tell him he looks ill, but not even that is taken to a point of resolution. The Rebbe is presented this time as a sort of Messiah figure; why then is he spoken of "calling in favours" as if he were some sort of Mafia don? Jacob Khan (another character who doesn't have a first name, even his wife gives him the full name, each and every time) says at one point that when the Rebbe calls, you obey. Hm. I wanted to enjoy this book a lot more than I did. I've always admired Potok's work; this wasn't a pleasant note to end a career on, but maybe that was the point.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    I first read Chaim Potok's books when I was 13 and I received The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev from my Hebrew school teacher as a bat mitzvah present. I remember coming home from the ceremony and the celebration and how I was so happy to be alone and read these books. Now, when collective Judaism is very hard for me to connect to, I enjoyed entering into Chaim Potok's description of an individual's struggle between himself as an individual and himself as a member of a strong and deep religiou I first read Chaim Potok's books when I was 13 and I received The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev from my Hebrew school teacher as a bat mitzvah present. I remember coming home from the ceremony and the celebration and how I was so happy to be alone and read these books. Now, when collective Judaism is very hard for me to connect to, I enjoyed entering into Chaim Potok's description of an individual's struggle between himself as an individual and himself as a member of a strong and deep religious community. As an individual and an artist, Asher Lev needs to paint what his imagination demands, but as an observant Jew, he holds a religious sense of the world that is just as much a part of him as his art. I was impressed with the way Potok gave both the religious and the artistic self full respect and allowed them to duke it out. For me, literature is most exciting when it allows impossible contradictions to coexist and then lets them evolve into an unpredictable and perhaps uncomfortable resolution. Now that Lev has a family, the conflict that was the subject of My Name is Asher Lev becomes even more intense in The Gift of Asher Lev, because Lev needs to make certain non-traditional choices for himself and for his family -- ironically for the sake of tradition. I especially enjoyed the ongoing theme about Lev's depiction of the crucifix in order to represent a certain kind of spiritual suffering and solitude that he encountered in himself and members of his family. Religious Jews asked him why he could not use the binding of Isaac as an image, but for Lev the binding of Isaac is not a representation of the kind of suffering he needs to express artistically. At the same time, Lev's son has a gift for Talmud and Torah study. He forms a close relationship with the rebbe, so much so that the rebbe and the Ladover community are hinting that Lev's own son will one day be the rebbe, so in a sense Lev does face the challenge of giving up his son for a religious calling, one that his own son desires.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    The strength of Potok is the honesty and depth to his characters and their communities. In his stories of the Ladovers there is beauty and love, anger and disappointment, hope and despair. One feels like they have truly stepped into this world of the Hasid, which for me is at once alien and familiar. In some ways, I feel like Asher: I am connected to this world, but not part of it. Asher of course is a part of the Hasidic world, buy he is in a kind of exile within it. Asher's duality here allows The strength of Potok is the honesty and depth to his characters and their communities. In his stories of the Ladovers there is beauty and love, anger and disappointment, hope and despair. One feels like they have truly stepped into this world of the Hasid, which for me is at once alien and familiar. In some ways, I feel like Asher: I am connected to this world, but not part of it. Asher of course is a part of the Hasidic world, buy he is in a kind of exile within it. Asher's duality here allows us into this insular world without invading it. I know little of Potok's personal life and biography. I do not know how much of him is in Asher Lev, but it feels like a lot. Obviously, one sees the tension about religion and art that Potok may have lived himself. I wonder as well, how much of Asher's struggle with creating new art without repeating himself echoes the author's own similar struggles? I liked this book, but it is not My Name is Asher Lev or The Chosen. It is good, but not like those works. They are on another level, true classics. The Gift is too melancholy, too meandering, too derivative to be truly great. There is all together too much moping about and waiting. The ending is ambiguous (which in the context of the story makes some sense) and unsatisfying. The story builds and builds and then just ends. Most of all, I do not think this sequel gave me any deeper insights into the first book. It is, in some ways, like an extend epilogue. It was pleasant to revisit and see how things have turned out, but doesn't really add anything new.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Taryn

    My favorite book of all time is My Name Is Asher Lev. I adore it. It speaks truth into my life every time I read it. The Gift of Asher Lev is also a life-giving book to me. I adore Chaim Potok's writing, and I appreciate the way he continues the story of Asher's life in this book. I can't figure out where to begin to spill all my thoughts and feelings about this book. It may be over dramatic, but I feel that The Gift completes My Name in the way Asher speaks of things needing to be completed. It' My favorite book of all time is My Name Is Asher Lev. I adore it. It speaks truth into my life every time I read it. The Gift of Asher Lev is also a life-giving book to me. I adore Chaim Potok's writing, and I appreciate the way he continues the story of Asher's life in this book. I can't figure out where to begin to spill all my thoughts and feelings about this book. It may be over dramatic, but I feel that The Gift completes My Name in the way Asher speaks of things needing to be completed. It's not just satisfying to see how Asher's life continued after being asked to leave Brooklyn, but the story of what happens to him and his community, with his contribution, truly completes his journey and his work for God. I read this as a parent these past few times and experienced additional depth, more angles than previous readings. I also lost some of what I read the first time, I believe, as happens when you leave one season of life and enter a different one. I certainly experience this when reading My Name Is Asher Lev. These books return me to my self. They settle me back into my faith, my purpose, my personhood, my artist self, my place in this world.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jason Shatkin

    Potok wrote this book 5 years after his last book. He should have stayed in retirement. Aside of being overly descriptive in meaningless scenery, Potoks book is obsessed with Art, yet never developed anything. I felt that no part of the story was settled and was an incredible waste of my time. Examples are his uncles art collection. "Oh. Just keep it in storage"?? Really??? It's destroying his family and just keep it in storage??? Asher lev gave a picture to his son as a gift. And that was suppo Potok wrote this book 5 years after his last book. He should have stayed in retirement. Aside of being overly descriptive in meaningless scenery, Potoks book is obsessed with Art, yet never developed anything. I felt that no part of the story was settled and was an incredible waste of my time. Examples are his uncles art collection. "Oh. Just keep it in storage"?? Really??? It's destroying his family and just keep it in storage??? Asher lev gave a picture to his son as a gift. And that was supposed to be a touching moment??? A freaking drawing on paper. I'd rate this 5 stars as a cure for insomnia. I'm angry because I feel insulted in this self gratifying "work" that I'd say unravels, but never had liftoff to begin with.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Read this after recently rereading My Name is Asher Lev. This book is also challenging but in the end more satisfying, I think. I'm still uncomfortable with it, but was completely mesmerized by this story. I just could not put it down. One of the most compelling novels I've read. I knew the ending--it seemed inescapable throughout most of the book. Stunning and heartbreaking with a tiny winking light of hope peeking through. It was like the entire world changed colors as I read this book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I really loved these two books but like many others felt let down with the rushed ending. You know what is going to happen in the end but more could definitely have been added...some resolutions of the mind and relationships of Asher. This book made me think about compromise for the good of all involved...The need for acceptance even though you don't condone the actions. A great story of the need for balance in all areas of life and to forgive and love unconditionaly.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah stefaniuk

    I am always skeptical about sequels, but this one was amazing. I would say I liked this one even better than My name is Asher Lev. Asher's a bit older and has a family in this one, so his issues are different. There is a mystery woven throughout this novel pertaining to a riddle that the rabbi shares at Asher's uncle's death. A really great book. Highly recommended.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katie Wahlquist

    At first I didn't like it as much as My Name is Asher Lev, but as I got going, I LOVED it! It was an interesting look at sacrifice. Great books, wonderful author.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ashley ❣️

    I really enjoyed this so much but the ending left me wanting more, im so sad their isn’t a third book but this was a good conclusion to Asher Lev’s story and I really loved it

  26. 4 out of 5

    Brenton

    This is a lovely, evocative book. It is my first time reading the sequel to My Name is Asher Lev, which I consider one of the closest examples of a nearly perfect novel that I can imagine. The sequel is very good: evocative, immersive, poetic, emotional. The Gift of Asher Lev is filled with the tensions of My Name is Asher Lev. The symbolic image, though, is not the Crucifixion, as in the first book. This time, the guiding image is the Sacrifice of Isaac--except this time, God does not provide a This is a lovely, evocative book. It is my first time reading the sequel to My Name is Asher Lev, which I consider one of the closest examples of a nearly perfect novel that I can imagine. The sequel is very good: evocative, immersive, poetic, emotional. The Gift of Asher Lev is filled with the tensions of My Name is Asher Lev. The symbolic image, though, is not the Crucifixion, as in the first book. This time, the guiding image is the Sacrifice of Isaac--except this time, God does not provide a ram in the thicket. It is a stunning book, though it cannot approach its Ur-text for me. I want to read Davita's Harp, but I must stop. Potok's writing invades my dreams, like an ancestor storming into my present. I cannot sleep. I dream Hasidic romances and paint my nights by number. I am exhausted.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    I liked this even more than My Name is Asher Lev. I am not quite sure where to begin. This is my third Potok book in about a month, and I continue to get absorbed in his writing style in such a real way that I find myself thinking about the book and characters throughout the day and into the evening. I wondered for some of the book if there was any possibility of truth to Asher's character, or if it was heavily stereotyped. Sad, lonely, selfish artist forced to choose between art and his family, I liked this even more than My Name is Asher Lev. I am not quite sure where to begin. This is my third Potok book in about a month, and I continue to get absorbed in his writing style in such a real way that I find myself thinking about the book and characters throughout the day and into the evening. I wondered for some of the book if there was any possibility of truth to Asher's character, or if it was heavily stereotyped. Sad, lonely, selfish artist forced to choose between art and his family, art and his religion. I concluded as I read, happily, that even if there are some parts of Asher that are cliche, he breaks with that cliche several major ways as first evidenced by the fact that he maintains successful family relationships. He has a wife, two children, and one can't be too dysfunctional if they are going to keep that family happy. I found myself really engaged with the theme of the conflict between art and community/religion. Asher was selfish, yes, but it felt like in many ways it was a helpless selfishness---if that is possible. He did choose his art, but he also showed the ambiguity that exists in the world and all of us because he also made profound choices that put his son and parents first. Asher, in the first book and now this one, finds himself using art as a redemptive tool, but ironically experiencing the isolation that comes from his family and community not accepting his art as such, but casting him out for about twenty years. Interestingly, the Rebbe of all people is able to come around and recognize art as a way of creating balance and even redemption in the world, even if the others in Asher's life who need it the most never end up seeing it. His relationship with the Rebbe and his deep spirituality are two other things that make his character break with whatever stereotypes might exist about artists, in my opinion. He is deeply committed to the commandments, and loyal to his spiritual leader and seeks to consider his counsel seriously. In the end, the choices he is once again forced to make, this time deeply affecting the future of his son, are redeemed by the creative power that lies within him. He is able to not only create art that redeems, but make creative choices that reflect a deep love of his family and religion, however conflicted those feelings also are. As a post script--I did some googling of this book and Chaim Potok, and discovered that Potok was also an artist, and that his parents heavily discouraged him in the same way that Asher is discouraged in the book. It turns out he did a painting of Brooklyn Crucifixion while writing the final chapters of this book---it is pretty good, I have to say. Some of the things I read quoted Potok as saying that he related to Asher Lev more than any of his other characters. I wondered all throughout the book how an author with no art experience could know so many technical aspects of the painting and drawing process. It was uncanny just how much he knew---well, turns out he was an artist! Makes perfect sense now.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Laura (Book Scrounger)

    This was a fine sequel to My Name Is Asher Lev. It deals with similar themes (the tension between religion and art, family and religion, etc.), and Asher's "voice" is similar, though he's more mature now at 45. Twenty years after he painted the crucifixions, Asher returns to Brooklyn with his family after the death of his Uncle Yitzchok. They plan to stay only a few weeks, but the visit becomes a month, and then another, and Asher's creative drought only worsens. I thought the book dragged a bit i This was a fine sequel to My Name Is Asher Lev. It deals with similar themes (the tension between religion and art, family and religion, etc.), and Asher's "voice" is similar, though he's more mature now at 45. Twenty years after he painted the crucifixions, Asher returns to Brooklyn with his family after the death of his Uncle Yitzchok. They plan to stay only a few weeks, but the visit becomes a month, and then another, and Asher's creative drought only worsens. I thought the book dragged a bit in the middle with Asher wandering around Paris, but overall Potok managed to accomplish something similar to the first book, which was to create this sense of building tension toward the end of the story, even without a whole lot "happening" as far as plot goes. We follow Asher's thoughts and observations, as he gradually comes to realize just how great the tension is becoming, and just what will be asked of him without anyone coming out and asking it. I was surprised just how much sadness (and maybe even anger) I felt after reading this story, considering the fact that no one dies (except in flashbacks), and without any real explicit "object" or villain to apply those feelings to. Like the first, I think this story has applications that are far broader than just Hasidic Judaism. I was intrigued at the contrast between Asher's cousin Yonkel (who will come out and condemn him quite openly, and yet even that is not enough for him), vs. others of Asher's relatives who, he decides, do not really even realize what they are asking him for. The two scenes with his mother and his father, where Asher goes back and forth between whether or not they are conscious of what he believes to be ulterior motives -- those were very interesting, and are still making me think, as well as the scene between Asher and his father where they discuss ambiguity vs. certainty.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sooho Lee

    The Gift of Asher Lev is a fitting sequel to My Name is Asher Lev.  Nearly 20 years after My Name, Asher Lev, exiled Hasid artist, thrives in France. His name is among contemporary greats, listed with Picasso and Jacob Kahn. He is married to Devorah and has two beautiful kids, Rochelah and Avrumel. His exile is home. But two events in sharp succession throw Asher into Ambiguity: vicious criticism of his most recent exhibition and the death of his beloved Uncle Yitzchok. In one swoop, his critics The Gift of Asher Lev is a fitting sequel to My Name is Asher Lev.  Nearly 20 years after My Name, Asher Lev, exiled Hasid artist, thrives in France. His name is among contemporary greats, listed with Picasso and Jacob Kahn. He is married to Devorah and has two beautiful kids, Rochelah and Avrumel. His exile is home. But two events in sharp succession throw Asher into Ambiguity: vicious criticism of his most recent exhibition and the death of his beloved Uncle Yitzchok. In one swoop, his critics -- especially the good ones -- struck down Asher: "He is repeating himself." An artist entrapped in a loop is an artist in Ambiguity: he is repeating himself because he cannot see clearly. If My Name is about Asher's undeniable gifted perception, The Gift is about its curse and burden.  Asher and his family fly to Brooklyn for the ritual mourning: a mixed array of emotions with ironic results. The death of Uncle Yitzchok pulled Devorah out of her grave and connected grandparents with grandkids. The family that Asher's parents had and lost is now found after mourning. A family in exile is now in a community of a people -- except for Asher. He is the original exile -- exiled because of his gift.  The Gift is a riddle. But it is Asher's wrestling with riddles, truths in ambiguous forms, that pulls him out of Ambiguity. He sees clearly once he reckons that he cannot see clearly. And what he sees is not always satisfying. Sometimes, seeing with clarity is more painful than seeing with Ambiguity. The gift of The Gift is to see the pain; the curse of The Gift is to see that pain; and the burden of The Gift is to live with that pain.  cf. www.sooholee.wordpress.com

  30. 5 out of 5

    Victor

    In this book's predecessor, My Name is Asher Lev, there is much struggle in Asher's mind between following his strict religion & community or breaking away and painting what he sees in the world, even if goes against his religion. In The Gift of Asher Lev there is only a little of this struggle. The main struggle is with his family--where should they live? What will become of the children? What will his father do when the Rebbe dies? What does his wife really want? A lot of the text is Asher's ow In this book's predecessor, My Name is Asher Lev, there is much struggle in Asher's mind between following his strict religion & community or breaking away and painting what he sees in the world, even if goes against his religion. In The Gift of Asher Lev there is only a little of this struggle. The main struggle is with his family--where should they live? What will become of the children? What will his father do when the Rebbe dies? What does his wife really want? A lot of the text is Asher's own inner world, as it is written in first person, and contains many minute details that I could have done without. The plot itself moves very slowly. I do enjoy learning about the Ladover Jewish community though, which Potok describes very well. Might not be worth the time it takes to get through this book unless you don't mind first person musings and/or learning about Hasidic Judaism.

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