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The Gift Of Asher Lev (1997)

The Gift of Asher Lev (1997)

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4.11 of 5 Votes: 3
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0449001156 (ISBN13: 9780449001158)
ballantine books

About book The Gift Of Asher Lev (1997)

Spoilers for My Name is Asher Lev and this book below.Is there a plan? 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 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 seem 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 was 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 affects 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 possess 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 storylines 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 tot he 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 under developed 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.

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.

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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.

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.
—Jason Shatkin

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.

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