My Name Is Asher Lev Synopsis: In this major novel–a wholly new departure for the author of The chosen and The Promise–the reader becomes a galvanized witness to the development of genius, as Chaim Potok traces the making of a great contemporary painter from the time when an “ordinary” little Brooklyn boy responds to the first stirrings of a commanding talent to the triumphant exhibition that wins recognition for his art and marks his final, heartrending estrangement from the world into which he was born. The painter introduces himself. Yes, he is the Asher Lev whose Brooklyn Crucifixion has created a furor in the art world and a sensation in the press. And immediately the reader is plunged back into the world of the boy, Asher, making drawings as compulsively, instinctively, necessarily as men breathe. He draws his Brooklyn home.
He draws the life on his street. He draws his father–the formidable man of action and commitment, and almost legendary Jewish hero in the battle to rescue Jews from Soviet oppression, a man who is increasingly appalled and enraged to see his only son throw away a heroic tradition for the “foolishness” of art. He draws his fragile and luminous mother, torn between the conflicting dreams of her husband and her son. . .
To become an artist, Asher must wrench apart his own life and the lives of the parents he loves. And in marvelous scene after scene–moving across the years from the Brooklyn of the fifties to Provincetown, Paris, Florence, to today’s New York–all is made felt with uncanny rightness: Asher’s interior experience, his artist’s imagination, his artist’s commitment, his artist’s selfishness, his encouragement by the great Rebbe who rules his parents’ lives but understands Asher better than they do; his apprenticeship to the world-famous Jacob Kahn, who becomes his teacher, inspiration, and channel to the great world of art; his immersion in the Christian tradition of Madonna, Annunciation, Christ Child, and Crucifixion, which his father hates and fears but which his art needs to nourish it. Here in a context of tension–commitment colliding with commitment–is Asher’s education in art and life, and the flowering of his consuming talent. This is how genius grows, not only from inner demands but from the very ancestral heritage whose civilities and laws and relationships the artist must revolt against. Chaim Potok’s new novel astonishes both by its emotional comprehension of the artist and its dramatic force.