- by Lily
I got introduced to this book by my son, who was reading it for English class. “It’s a really good book, I’m glad we are reading it in class,” He told me one night. Out of curiosity, I picked up a copy from the library and found myself drawn to it.
The story is set in a Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York around 1950s. This is a community with many pious Hasid Jews, who keep Kosher, pray three times a day, believe in the master of Universe, and despise art and science. This is where the main character Asher Lev grew up. Asher’s parents are both devoted Ladover Hasid, especially his father who traveled for the Rabbi around the world to establish Jewish community and schools. But Asher was born with a special talent, painting. The story is about how Asher struggled growing up in such an environment with such a talent, torn between his talent, his family, and his religion.
I don’t understand the Jewish religion, and I don’t know much about art. But I am drawn to this book. Of course, the author, Chaim Potok, was a great writer. His exquisite description of how a boy perceives his world while growing up is very touching. Asher’s uncontrollable habit of drawing and subconscious disclosure of his thoughts through his drawing, Asher’s perception of his parents, the mingled feelings of love, longing, anger, and refusal between them, the wise Rabbi, Asher’s unorthodox teacher who not only taught him how to draw but also how to be a true artist, the book captured all of those moments and is filled with true feelings.
More importantly, the issues the author raised in the book go way beyond any particular religion or a specific talent. I can’t help pondering if my definition of “useful” and “useless” skills is hindering the development of my kids’ “hidden” talent, how do you balance everyone’s need in a family without losing yourself, what is the best way to guide a person through life so he can make the right decisions and be true to himself, wouldn’t the world be much more enjoyable if only we can be more open-minded and appreciate each other just a little more?
I feel compelled to thank my son’s English teacher for introducing to us such a wonderful book, and she told me there is a sequel to the book, “The Gift of Asher”. Right, you know what I’m reading now :)