1 January 2015

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Chaim Potok shows us a closed world, but one with universalistic human values.

Like Potok's 'The Chosen,’ this book ‘My Name is Asher Lev’ is a highly readable glimpse into a world which is both open and closed. It is open in the sense that the orthodox religious Jewish community in the United States, in which the book is set, not only shares a meaning and context which spans the Atlantic, but allows though Potok’s pen for the presentation of universal human values. But in another sense this community is also closed and cut off – almost comically so - from most of the life and concerns of average Americans in the second half of the twentieth century.

Like much of Potok’s work, the novel is a Romansbildung, featuring a boy from a distinguished orthodox family, who discovers and takes up painting much to his father’s disapproval. His longing for the artistic freedom finally causes his unwilling but expected expulsion from his community into the wider society.

The book is well-paced, excellently written and highly enjoyable.

POTOK, Chaim, My name is Asher Lev, Penguin 1973

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