My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

My Name Is Asher LevInformation

Goodreads: My Name Is Asher Lev
Series: Asher Lev #1
Source: Gift
Published: 1972


Asher Lev possesses a gift for painting, a gift that his father, an Orthodox Jew, believes demonic. But even though his art hurts the ones he loves the most, Asher cannot give it up.  My Name Is Asher Lev follows his struggle to find his place within the Jewish community while remaining true to his artistic vision.


My Name Is Asher Lev is a book with rare power, one that looks at the dark and sometimes destructive side of the artistic process even while celebrating art.  Though the story features a painter, its themes broadly encompass all forms of artistic creation, so that the book itself becomes a product of the uncontrollable forces that seem to buffet Asher Lev and shape his world.  This emergence of the book’s themes into the real world make it a particularly moving work, one that haunts the reader long after the pages have been closed.

One of the most striking aspects about My Name Is Asher Lev is how unapologetic is about the need for artists to create.  It illustrates the destruction that Asher’s art causes to his family, his community, and even himself, yet insists relentlessly that Asher can live no other way.  In a truly bold move, the book does not even seek to justify artistic creation as meaningful to the world at large or even to Asher’s small circle.  It does not suggest that artists create for the sake of giving others anything, or, for example, offering beauty that can lessen the pain of everyday life.  Indeed, Asher repeatedly rejects his mother’s requests for something “beautiful” in favor of drawing out his own vision of the world–especially when the world is ugly.  To this extent, artistic creation seems almost more of an exorcism than anything else, and one begins to wonder if Asher’s father is wrong in assessing his son’s talent as something demonic.

Even though Asher seems to create only for himself, however, his story implies that he does offer the world something–his own unique vision.  No one else sees the world as Asher does, but by painting he provides to others a glimpse of a reality they may never have noticed, or have perceived in that light.  To that extent, his work does have meaning–though ironically strangers appreciate his vision more than his own family, who continue to wish that he would conform to their mold and see the world the way they do, a way that they somehow continue to assume is the only way, despite Asher’s visual attempts to be heard.

There is something terribly poignant about the way in which even an artist like Asher continues to be misunderstood, even after he has painted his heart onto canvas and bared his soul to the world.  His story suggests that, if life is a constant struggle for communion, nevertheless, in the end, many of us live and die alone.  The choice, at least as illustrated by Asher, is to be who others wish you were and to find acceptance, or to be true to one’s self and feel the pain of exile.

In depicting so much pain, My Name Is Asher Lev seems a brutally honest work, one that does not pretend that creating beautiful or lovely things guarantees one’s self beauty or love.  Art exacts a price and this book asks how many are truly willing to pay it.  Or how many are unwittingly exacting that price from others in their refusal to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

2 thoughts on “My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

    • Krysta says:

      My Name Is Asher Lev is, in many ways, a sad book, but for some reason I’ve never found it tough. It’s not one of those books I’ve had to force myself through because everything is horrible and depressing. I sort of wonder why that is, now. How it can be so sad but not feel difficult. Hmmm…


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