My Name is Asher Lev
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My Name is Asher Lev is the story of cultural conflict as well as a story of the forces that threaten to tear a family apart. Asher Lev first shows artistic genius as a young child. In many families his gift would be looked upon as just that, a great gift. However Asher's family are members of a religous Jewish sect, the Ladover Hasids, and they believe art is a waste of time and that many artistic works are an abomination to God. However, Asher cannot give up his gift. He is not whole without it but his gift threatens to tear his family apart. His father wors for the Rebbe, the leader of the Ladovers, and travels to Europe frequently after World War II, setting up yeshivas, schools, for Jewish youth. He cannot understand why his son seemingly wants to squander his talents serving the world rather than God. He sees Asher as selfish and heretical to his faith. Asher's mother stands between them always being twisted one way of the other.
Fortunately for Asher, the Rebbe seems to be a reasonable and wise man. He makes sure that Asher gets the artistic education he needs, despite his father's disapproval. He sends the boy to a renowned artist, Jacob Kahn. Kahn is also Jewish, but not an observant Jew according to Ladover tradition. Under Kahn's influence Asher develops into a truly great artist. The discord in his family disturbs Asher so much that he needs to work it out on canvass. He struggles as he tries to show the agony that the disagreement between his father and himself has caused his mother. He tries and tries to show how she is stretched between her son and her husband. Finally he realizes the only way that he can truly show her pain is to use a symbol that is anathema to his people. He uses the Cross; showing his mother on a Cross of window blinds stretching out on one side to her husband and on the other to Asher. The painting causes a fury in the Jewish Community of New York City and Asher is told by the Rebbe, that he needs to leave the city. The book ends as Asher leaves for Paris to continue his artistic education. He has finally broken free from his family and his leaving will provide some relief to his tortured mother. Potok will later pick up his story in a sequel entitled The Gift of Asher Lev"