Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
My Name Is Asher Lev, perhaps Chaim Potok’s greatest novel, is an excellent example of the Künstlerroman, which is a novel about an artist’s development. It confronts issues of Jewish and family identity in the post-Holocaust world. Asher Lev is a child prodigy artist, the only child of a Hasidic Jewish couple that lives in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. Aryeh Lev, Asher’s father, serves as a personal emissary for the rebbe or tzaddik, the “righteous one” or religious leader of the Hasidic community.
The orthodox Hasidic Jewish culture into which Asher is born approves of creativity only in the context of interpretation of Talmudic passages. Asher finds it difficult, and at times embarrassing, to follow his muse; he finds it natural to draw and to create pictures. Rivkeh Lev, Aryeh’s mother, initially supports Asher’s desire to draw, but she soon sides with her husband, who believes that drawing and the fine arts are products of a gentile culture. In the years during and immediately following World War II, Aryeh Lev travels the world to minister to Hasidic Jews who have been displaced by the Nazi Holocaust. Since Hasids believe that the Jewish state will be re-created in Israel only with the coming of the Messiah, who has not yet arrived, Hasidic Jews generally did not support the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Aryeh travels about the world for the tzaddik, defending himself and his spiritual...
(The entire section is 453 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Asher Lev is the only child of a devout, Orthodox Jewish couple, Rivkeh and Aryeh Lev. By the age of four, Asher shows an unusual talent for drawing. His mother urges him repeatedly to make pretty drawings, while his father views Asher’s preoccupation with suspicion, labeling it “foolishness.”
When Asher is six years old, his family receives the news of the death of his Uncle Yaakov, Rivkeh’s only brother. Yaakov, who was studying history and Russian affairs, died in a car accident while traveling for the Rebbe, a religious leader. The death plunges Rivkeh into a prolonged depression. Asher’s father works and travels for the Rebbe, and Asher is often left alone with a housekeeper.
While visiting Asher’s family, Asher’s uncle, Yitzchok (Aryeh’s brother), notices his nephew’s drawings and proclaims the boy “a little Chagall.” He tells Asher that Chagall is the greatest living Jewish artist, and he adds that Picasso is the greatest artist of all. Uncle Yitzchok buys one of Asher’s drawings so that he can own an “early Lev,” but Asher’s father opposes this gesture and insists that Yitzchok return the drawing.
During Rivkeh’s depression, Asher begins to be haunted by nightmares of his father’s great-great-grandfather. Asher comes to regard this figure as his mythic ancestor. The figure appears to him repeatedly at night and comes to symbolize Asher’s religious and cultural heritage and the...
(The entire section is 1093 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
A perennial theme in Potok’s work considers the place of the artist (painter or writer) within the Hasidic community. In My Name Is Asher Lev, the controversy is over representational art. Asher is born in Crown Heights in Brooklyn in 1943, and as he grows it is evident that he has a gift for drawing and painting. Asher’s father is frequently away on trips for the rebbe as the Ladover Hasid community (patterned perhaps on Lubavitch Hasidism) seeks to expand throughout Europe. While Aryeh Lev is arranging help for Jewish families emigrating to the United States, Asher and his mother spend long nights in loneliness. (Asher had refused to join his own father in Europe.)
When his mother’s brother is killed on a mission for the rebbe, Rivkeh Lev suffers a breakdown. Later, taking up her brother’s uncompleted work, she surrounds herself with her Russian studies to help her forget her heartache. Images of work completed and uncompleted pervade the novel, and Asher finds as he develops his gift that he must complete his understanding of the world by painting not only what he sees with his eyes but also what his inner vision shows him.
The pictures he paints often depict the reality of evil. At the end of the novel, Asher has revealed two crucifixion paintings to his parents. In both, the face of his mother stares from the cross, looking in abstract fashion at the ever-traveling husband on one side and at Asher the stranger on the...
(The entire section is 797 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
Asher Lev introduces himself as a famous artist, notorious for being a Jew who paints crucifixions, blasphemous for manipulating the details for his own purpose. His ancestors can be traced back to the Middle Ages. His great-great-grandfather has taken on a mythic persona, traveling all over Russia to make the world a better place. Asher himself is born in Brooklyn to Aryeh and Rivkeh Lev.
From an early age, Asher has the gift of artistic talent, drawing on everything. Asher’s mother, who was only nineteen when she gave birth to him, seems more like a sister to him. His father is gone frequently, traveling in connection with his work for the Rebbe of the Ladover movement, which brings European Jews to America.
As he gets older, Asher draws his memories of his parents. His mother has some appreciation for his art, though she does not like it when he draws her unawares. His father thinks drawing is a waste of time. When Asher is six, his uncle (his mother’s brother) is killed in a car accident in connection with his work for the Rebbe. The day after she learns the news, Mrs. Lev begins screaming uncontrollably and is taken to the hospital. A housekeeper, Mrs. Rackover, comes to cook and to clean the house, as well as watch over Asher during the day. When Mrs. Lev returns from the hospital, Mr. Lev stops traveling and works in the Landover offices. Mrs. Lev has changed drastically, not only physically but mentally. She seems disconnected from the world around her, even her husband and son. Asher’s aunt comes to talk to her sister, begging her to get up and take care of her family, saying that Asher will be scared when he grows up. Asher begins to go with his father to his office to get him away from his sick mother. He hates sitting in an office, feeling that he should be among the people.
When Mrs. Lev asks him to draw pretty things to make the world pretty, Asher refuses, stating that the world is not pretty. He breaks down at the dinner table and begins to scream. Mr. Lev’s brother arrives and suggests that he talk to the Rebbe about his wife’s illness, but Mr. Lev does not want to add to the Rebbe’s problems. Asher’s uncle notices Asher’s drawing, proclaiming him another Chagall or Picasso. Asher tells him he is not; his name is Asher Lev.
While sketching a picture of his mother sitting at the window, Asher uses cigarette ashes. When his father sees it, he is quiet and thoughtful. At...
(The entire section is 508 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
At the yeshiva, Asher is treated with special care because of his parents’ close relationship to the Rebbe. He still refuses to draw. When his mother asks about it, he simply tells her that he does not feel like it anymore. During the summers, the family goes to a bungalow up in the Berkshires, where Mr. Lev joins them on the weekends. Mrs. Lev regains her old happiness during the summer, but she has become less like a sister to Asher and more of an organizer.
Mr. Lev resumes his travels on behalf of the Ladover Hasidic movement. He is devastated when he learns that the Soviets have killed the Jewish writers in Russia. During that winter, a snowstorm shuts down the East Coast. Mr. Lev is in Boston and cannot return. This upsets Mrs. Lev, who still thinks that her brother was killed because of his work for the Rebbe, the same work that her husband is now doing. When Mr. Lev returns, he hears on the radio that Jewish doctors have been arrested for presumably trying to kill Russian military officers. Mr. Lev fears that Stalin will use this as an excuse for a major purge of Russian Jews. At school, the rabbi tells the students about the new atrocities in Russia. Asher goes to the stationery store where Reb Krinsky now works. He asks him about his experiences as a prisoner in Siberia. Mrs. Rackover is upset when he returns home late, though she does not tell his mother. Mr. Lev talks to him about his failures in school. Asher continues to see Reb Krinsky after school. He sees that the store now carries art supplies, but he still has not regained his desire to draw. Mrs. Lev gives Asher permission to go to the stationery store after school but warns him to come straight home afterward. Asher asks his father if he will now travel to Russia, but Mr. Lev tells him that once a Jew leaves the Soviet Union, it is very dangerous to return.
Asher asks Reb Krinsky if his father would be sent to Siberia if they lived in Russia. Reb Krinsky says that he would, if he were not shot. During another snowstorm, Asher goes to the stationery store and returns home later than normal. His mother is furious, asking him what he is doing to her. The next morning she apologizes for losing her temper. Asher forgets to study for his arithmetic test again and fails.
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Mr. Lev learns that Stalin has had a stroke and is dying. He warns his family, “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice.” It is difficult, however, for them not to feel that a major threat to the Jewish people has been removed. On the way home from school, Asher sees a group of six men get out of a car and go into the Ladover offices. His father does not come home that night. The next day, the radio announces that Stalin is dead. Mr. Lev comes home and says that Simcha has managed to get out of Russia and has arrived in London. When Asher asks who Simcha is, he is told simply that Simcha is a Jew from Kiev.
Mr. Lev asks Asher if he knows where Vienna, Austria, is. Asher does not even know that it is a city. He tells his father that they did not study Austria in school. Mr. Lev remarks that his son does not know geography or arithmetic. Asher attends the morning service at the synagogue as the Rebbe conducts the prayers. Reb Krinsky greets Asher, saying that he has not seen him for a week. He also says that Stalin should have died thirty years ago.
Asher sees a picture in the newspaper showing Stalin in his coffin. He cannot look away from the picture. When he goes to the stationery store, Reb Krinsky assures him that there can be no more Stalins in Russia. When he comes home, Mrs. Lev tells him that the family is moving to Vienna. Asher says that he does not want to go, but he has no choice. He becomes ill and dreams that his uncle and Reb Krinsky come to see him.
Asher goes to tell Reb Krinsky that he is moving to Vienna. Krinsky tells him that it is a beautiful city that hates Jews. This does not make Asher feel better. His uncle assures him that Mr. Lev is doing this for the good of the Torah. He will start schools for Russian Jews all over Europe, as well as be a liaison for those who are escaping the Soviet Union. Asher tells his mother that he is afraid to travel, especially flying. It makes no difference; they are moving in October. Asher dreams that the Rebbe comes out of the trees in the park, and this frightens him. At school, while the rabbi is talking, Asher draws lines and circles in his notebook. When he looks at it again, he discovers that he has drawn a picture of Stalin in his coffin.
(The entire section is 432 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Asher continues to draw pictures of Stalin in his coffin, changing the details with each drawing. His father and mother see them. His mother thinks they are good drawings, even though they are not about pretty things. However, she is concerned that his art is keeping him from his studies. She tells him that they are going to get their passport pictures taken the following Monday, but Asher again announces that he is not going to Vienna. He asks Reb Krinsky if he knows what a passport is. Krinsky tells him that Asher’s father is going to Vienna to do important things and reminds him of the Torah’s command: “Honor your father and mother.” Asher is drawing with charcoal now as his preferred medium, and Krinsky shows him how to use a fixative on it to keep it from smudging.
Asher asks his Uncle Yitzchok (his father’s brother) if he can live with him when his parents go to Vienna. Uncle Yitzchok tells him to stop this foolishness, but he is impressed with Asher’s increasing artistic talent. On Monday, Asher refuses to go get his picture taken, so his parents put it off. While Asher draws her picture, Mrs. Lev asks him what his drawing means to him, because it may hurt his parents. Asher ignores the question. A few nights later, Asher hears his parents arguing in Yiddish. Asher begins to notice that his eyes are changing, allowing him to see the lines and planes of the things and people he draws. He notices the small details of the world around him. Mr. Lev tells him of the Jewish communists in Russia, who had denied God and the Jewish race. It was only the Ladover and Breslover Hasidic Jews who kept the Torah alive. It was the Rebbe, along with Asher’s grandfather, who came to America to keep it alive when Russia was no longer safe. This is what Mr. Lev wants to do, and this is why he is taking his family to Vienna.
Asher goes to his Uncle Yitzchok to ask him once again if he can stay with him. Uncle Yitzchok becomes angry and tells Asher to stop acting like a child. Asher walks along the street and notices a brother and sister walking. He goes home to draw them, and he wonders about their lives, especially their parents. During Passover, the news comes that the Soviet government has released the doctors who had been arrested. Fifteen doctors were released, but only nine doctors had been arrested, with two being beaten to death. No mention is made of the discrepancy in the numbers. After Passover, Asher goes to get...
(The entire section is 452 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Asher draws pictures of buildings in flames. Mrs. Lev takes him to a doctor, but there is nothing physically wrong with him. The eye doctor sees nothing wrong with his eyes. Asher is taken to a psychiatrist, but Asher does not learn what this doctor said, only that his mother is very quiet on the way home. In school, Asher draws a picture of the Rebbe in his copy of the Torah, though he is not aware of what he is doing until his horrified schoolmates question him. The teacher is only disappointed, but the head of the school (mashpia) calls his father. Asher is to meet with him the next day. After school, Asher goes to the stationery store and asks Krinsky about the oil paints. When he learns the price of them, Asher feels that he will never be able to afford to paint with oils. It is after seven o’clock when he finally arrives home to his worried mother.
In the mashpia’s office the next day, Asher has trouble listening to his questioning. He looks outside at the rain and at his other surroundings. Finally, the mashpia gives him a sketchbook and a pencil and tells him to draw something. When he is done, he is to leave the sketchbook and return to class, remembering to close the door and turn off the light. Asher draws picture after picture of what he knows everyone wants him to draw but not what he himself wants to express. He leaves school, even though the school day is not over. He wanders around until late in the evening, once again returning home to a worried mother. He refuses to answer any of her questions. When his father returns home, he tells Asher that he must return home after school and not go to see Reb Krinsky. Asher agrees, but he goes back to the stationery store one more time. He steals some oil paint and brushes, but he buys a canvas. He returns home to his room. At school, he is bullied, but he ignores it.
Mr. Lev goes to Washington. On the day he is to return, Mrs. Lev hears the news of a plane crash, but it is not the one carrying Mr. Lev. Asher begins to see what his father’s trips do to his mother. Asher is left at home one evening. He learns that his parents were going to leave him with his uncle after all, but they decided that he was too much of a responsibility with all his strange behaviors. Mr. Lev goes on alone, while Asher stays with his mother in Brooklyn.
(The entire section is 442 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Asher misses his father, especially on the Sabbath. He thinks about telling his mother that he wants them to go to Vienna after all, but he cannot bring himself to do this. Mrs. Lev sets up a table and bookcase in the living room to be used as her study. She has graduated from college and is now working on her master’s degree in Russian studies. She brings home a box of oil paints, painting supplies, canvases, and an easel for Asher. He takes to oils as if he has been painting with them all his life.
Mrs. Lev talks to Asher about his studies at school. His teachers say that he is not even trying. He continues to draw during class and is subject to the sarcasm of his instructors. His Uncle Yitzchok talks to him about his studies in the Torah. Reb Krinsky shames him, pointing out that his father is traveling all over Europe to set up yeshivas so that Jews can study the Torah while his own son in America refuses to learn it. Adults stop talking to Asher because he is hurting his father, who has done so much for the Jews.
Asher goes with his mother to the museum. He sees pictures of nudes, which his mother says are against the Torah, that Jews should show modesty. She is especially upset when Asher is interested in pictures of Jesus. She tries to explain how much harm Jews have suffered because of Christianity, but Asher does not listen. He goes to the museum every day after school, copying the pictures that he sees. Mrs. Lev feels guilty that she encouraged Asher in his art, admitting that she bought the paints so that he would no longer steal from Reb Krinsky.
After many months, Mr. Lev comes home from Vienna. He is furious at what Asher has been painting, blaming his mother for allowing him to go. He forbids Asher to go to the museum any more, but he goes anyway. Mr. Lev threatens to take Asher back with him to Vienna. Mrs. Lev and Asher spend the summer in the Berkshires after Mr. Lev goes back to Vienna.
Several new Jewish families move into the apartments on Asher’s street. He sees one boy and introduces himself as the son of Aryeh Lev. The boy does not believe him, thinking that he is a Jew who is really a Soviet spy, as he encountered in Russia. Asher does not speak to him again.
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Asher begins to prepare for his bar mitzvah. The Rebbe will meet with each student before the ceremony. Asher has lessons in the Torah and Hasidus with the mashpia (head of the school) every day after school in preparation. They study the three kinds of Jews: the one who sins and has evil thoughts, the one who acts without fault but cannot control his thinking, and the one who has control over his heart. This last one can only be born. They study the verse in Proverbs that states that the candle of God is the soul of man. They also study the Other Side, the realm of evil and darkness. Asher does not understand many of the things that he studies, but he enjoys his time with the mashpia.
Mr. Lev comes home in January before Asher’s meeting with the Rebbe. He warns him to remember to whom he is speaking. He is tense about the meeting, but Mrs. Lev is proud. Asher goes to the Ladover building and sits in the waiting room for his meeting with the Rebbe. He sees another man sitting there with a pad in his hand. The man writes, shakes his head, and turns to another page. Asher feels the man’s eyes on him. After some minutes, Asher is escorted in the Rebbe’s office.
The Rebbe asks after his mother, and Asher replies properly in Yiddish. The Rebbe remembers the night Asher was born and his bris (ritual circumcision). He also remembers Asher’s grandfather. The Rebbe tells Asher that life should be lived for the sake of heaven, and no one life is better than another. A lawyer is not better than a painter. The Rebbe blesses Asher and dismisses him.
When Asher reenters the waiting room, the man with the pad goes quickly into the Rebbe’s office. On the chair where Asher was sitting is a piece of paper. Asher opens it to find a portrait of himself, along with the signature “Jacob Kahn” and the date. Asher quickly draws a picture of Jacob Kahn from memory, signs and dates it, and leaves it on the chair. He goes out to the front porch, where Jacob Kahn soon joins him. He asks Asher if the life of a painter is really what he wants. Asher says that it is. Jacob tells him that the Rebbe wants him to work with Asher to perfect his art. They will begin to have lessons in March. Until then, Asher is to go to the Museum of Modern Art and study Picasso’s Guernica.
Mr. Lev does not accept the Rebbe’s decision that Asher should be trained as an artist. Mrs. Lev takes Asher to the museum and buys him...
(The entire section is 469 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
In the middle of March, Jacob Kahn calls Asher to see if he has been studying Guernica. Asher tells him the depth of his studies, and Jacob is suitably impressed and asks him to come to his studio the following Sunday afternoon and to plan to stay through dinner. He also tells Asher to read about the Massacre of the Innocents in the Christian gospel of Matthew, as well as study a painting depicting the story. Asher goes to the library after school and reads from the Christian Bible, which makes him feel very uncomfortable. He sees no connection between this, the Massacre of the Innocents painting, and Guernica. He tells his mother what Jacob had him do. She tells him to ask him about his reasoning when he goes to Jacob’s home on Sunday. She gives Asher a book about art that the art professor at her college told her to have Asher read. She said that she told him about Asher’s studies with Jacob Kahn. The professor is impressed, stating that Jacob Kahn is one of the greatest artists alive today, having worked with Picasso before the First World War.
Asher reads the book and is drawn into its message. He reads all night. In the morning, he tells his mother that he is not sure that he wants to free himself as the book states. Mrs. Lev wants to go with Asher to his first meeting with Jacob Kahn, but Asher insists on going by himself. He goes to the old loft building where Jacob lives. He is told to sign in before he is shown up to Jacob’s apartment. He is greeted by a woman by the name of Anna Schaeffer, who is a friend of Jacob’s. She is shocked to see that he is a Hasidic Jew, complete with side curls. She looks at the drawings that he brought with him and declares them to be magnificent. Jacob warns him what he is up against. Anna asks what his parents think of his drawings, since Hasidic Jews usually frown on things like that. Asher does not reply, which is in itself a reply. Anna leaves, wishing Asher luck, stating that he has everything else. When Jacob invites him back the next week, Asher says that his father will be home for Passover and he does not want to upset him. Asher returns home to find a note from his mother, saying that she went to an emergency meeting with the Rebbe. When she returns, she says that Asher’s father will not be home for Passover. No one knows where he is. Asher fears that he is in Russia, subjected to torture. No word is heard from Mr. Lev, and Asher returns to Jacob Kahn.
(The entire section is 464 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
A week after Passover, Mr. Lev calls from Vienna. He is vague in his revelations of what he has been doing, but he asks his wife to come to Vienna for the summer. Jacob Kahn flies to Europe to see an old artist friend of his. When he returns, Asher comes several times a week for lessons. Since Jacob often takes off his shirt when he carves, Asher begins to do the same. He is staying with his uncle, who tells him to get dressed when he catches him shirtless.
Asher paints one of the bullies at school. Jacob tells him not to be afraid to paint his hate. When Asher does, Jacob tells him that he hopes he is never hated by Asher Lev. Jacob announces that a girl is coming to the studio to model for Asher. He says that the Rebbe did not want Jacob to have Asher draw nudes, but he is going to do so anyway. Asher is increasingly nervous. He sweats all through the session, but he becomes more comfortable with it eventually. Mr. Lev comes home, visibly drained physically. He tells Asher that he is not reconciled to his son's studying with a nonreligious Jew, especially when he sees one of the nude drawings. Mrs. Lev tells Asher that she wants to go to Vienna with her husband and that Asher will live with his Uncle Yitzchok. Asher rebels against this, even though he had wanted to do this before. His mother accuses him of acting like a child and that other people have special needs, not just himself.
Asher continues to be bullied. He finds hateful poems on his desk, but he says nothing. Though he has been tormented like this for years, he has not become accustomed to it. He draws a vile picture of his antagonist and slips it into one of the bully’s books.
The Rebbe calls Asher into his office. He tells Asher that he has known him from a child and has been intimately involved in the affairs of the Lev family. He thinks of Asher as a son. He tells Asher that he wants Mrs. Lev to join her husband in Europe. Asher resigns himself to this in the face of the Rebbe’s power over all the Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. Anna Schaeffer returns to America. She tells Asher that Jacob plans to have an exhibit of Asher’s work. When Jacob announces it, Asher is to act surprised. He does. Mrs. Lev finishes her doctorate and goes to Vienna. Asher moves in with his Uncle Yitzchok.
(The entire section is 433 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Asher spends the summer on Cape Cod with Jacob Kahn and his wife, Tanya. Asher is faithful in his prayers. Jacob says that he has lost the faculty of prayer. Nowadays he talks to God through his sculpture and his painting. Asher says that this is also a form of prayer.
Mrs. Kahn speaks English with a heavy Russian accent. She spends her days on the porch, reading books in Russian and French. Asher will not eat food that is not kosher, so he has a small stove and refrigerator in his room. He wonders how his father managed to stay kosher in all his travels.
Each day after breakfast, Jacob and Asher would set up their easels on the beach and paint. Jacob shows Asher some of the styles of earlier painters. He teaches him that the canvas has limitations as a two-dimensional surface. After lunch, they would swim in the ocean. Asher has learned how to swim with Jacob’s help. He thinks back to his summers in the Berkshires with his mother. They seem like another world.
Asher paints a self-portrait. When he looks at his picture and sees the earlocks he has painted, he tucks them behind his ears. While walking along the streets downtown, Asher and Jacob meet an old friend of Jacob’s, whom Jacob call a “whore” for selling his soul to people rather than to his art. Jacob warns his student not to become a whore, which is something that Asher has no intention of becoming. He also chides Asher for tucking his earlocks behind his ears. Those are part of his identity; if he has no individuality as a person, he is no artist. During a Jewish time of remembrance, Asher goes on a fast. Jacob worries that he is becoming skin and bones. Jacob falls into a strange mood and will not get out of bed. Mrs. Kahn tells Asher that he is remembering his past and will not allow Asher to see him. Several painters come to the house to see Jacob. Anna Schaeffer arrives and asks Asher how his summer is going. She tells him that Jacob is satisfied with his work and asks him to be kind to his teacher; he is filled with memories of unpleasant things from his past.
Asher receives a letter from his mother. It is postmarked Zurich. She is working hard, as is his father. She reminds him not to forget that he is a Jew. After the summer is over, they return to New York.
(The entire section is 424 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
When Asher enters high school, he is ordered to take French, though he does not see the point. He continues to study with Jacob Kahn, spending his summers with him in Provincetown. On one Jewish holiday, he and Jacob dance with the Torah. Jacob later turns this into one of his sculptures. Jacob has a showing of his work, arranged by Anna Schaeffer. A sculpture of Asher’s head is sold to a famous individual. Asher finds it strange that his likeness is sitting in someone’s home. Jacob wishes he could have stayed home, but he came only for Anna’s sake. Anna is well aware of Jacob’s feelings.
Asher’s uncle redesigns his attic into a studio for Asher. In gratitude, Asher paints a portrait of his uncle and his family. Mr. and Mrs. Lev return from Vienna. Mr. Lev is furious at the studio that his brother built for Asher. He will barely speak to Asher. Mrs. Lev tries to get him to come to Vienna for the summer, but Asher refuses, fearing that his father will stop him from painting. When Mr. and Mrs. Lev return for the next season of holidays, Asher’s uncle and aunt support Mrs. Lev in wanting Asher to come to Vienna. Feeling overwhelmed, Asher agrees. Jacob Kahn is busy campaigning for John F. Kennedy anyway. On the plane, Asher becomes ill. He stays in Vienna for a few days and returns to Brooklyn.
The school registrar asks Asher if he plans to go to college. Asher says he will go, and the registrar tells him to take Russian. Asher refuses, but he ends up taking it under the Rebbe’s command. The Rebbe gives him his blessing in his pursuit of art, but warns him that the world will not be kind to him.
Asher travels with Jacob Kahn and his wife to various art exhibits around the country. He goes to college and studies Russian. Anna Schaefer announces that Asher Lev will have his own exhibition in New York, the youngest artist to do so. Asher is elated, and Jacob says that he wishes he could carve the expression on his face. The exhibition is a moderate success, and the critics are kind because of his youth. Jacob goes into a fit of depression when President Kennedy is assassinated. Asher has a second exhibition, which does even better than the first. Asher’s parents return home for good. They move back into their old apartment, and Asher goes home to live with them. He keeps his studio at his uncle’s, however.
(The entire section is 434 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
When Asher’s parents return from their years of living apart from him in Vienna, they seem to be speaking in a private language to each other. Asher notices the physical changes in his parents, usually for the better. They seem healthier and happier. Mr. Lev reads the reviews of Asher’s work in art magazines. He does not like the one critic who did not like Asher’s paintings. Mr. Lev tells Asher that he has made his parents proud. Mrs. Lev asks when his next exhibition is to be and, more importantly, if there will be nudes. Asher tells her it will be a year from January and there will probably be nudes. Mrs. Lev says that her husband would like to go to his son’s show but will not go if there are nudes. She begins to speak to him of the daughter of a friend, hinting that it is time for Asher to find a wife. Asher dismisses this. In answer to his mother’s questions about his studies, Asher has found that his knowledge of French and Russian has helped him in his reading about art.
Mr. Lev asks Asher how he paints. Asher explains that he paints his feelings, not a story. Mr. Lev finds this dangerous. Asher talks to Jacob about his father’s resistance to art. Mr. Lev has a college education and came from a yeshiva, as did Asher, but still has no appreciation for what art can mean. Jacob says Asher is a “freak,” taking from his yeshiva only what did not interfere with his art.
When Mr. Lev learns that Asher travels to other cities to see art exhibits, he asks him to take messages on behalf of the Rebbe. Asher meets people in the airport, hands over the envelope, and leaves. He does not know what the message is. Mr. Lev explains that they are personal messages from the Rebbe and need to be delivered in person.
Mrs. Lev asks Asher several times if there will be nudes at his exhibit. Asher keeps telling her that there will. When the time comes to select which paintings to show, Asher hesitates about the nudes, but Anna and Jacob insist. Mr. and Mrs. Lev do not come to the exhibit. Asher tries to explain that there is a difference between a naked woman and a nude, but Mr. Lev refuses to understand. When Asher graduates with a degree in sociology, he tells his parents that he is going to Europe for the summer, specifically, Florence. They give him the names of people whom they know there. Jacob Kahn tells Asher that Florence is a gift.
(The entire section is 446 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
In Florence, Asher lives in cramped quarters, taking his meals with a woman recommended by his father. He becomes obsessed with two sculptures: the Pieta (which shows the Virgin Mary holding the crucified Jesus) and David. He begins to draw the Pieta on everything, even the tablecloths of cafes he visits.
A man approaches him one day and asks him to deliver a letter when he goes to Rome. The man is from the Ladover, and the message is for one of the other members. Asher is once again a carrier for the Rebbe. In Rome, he delivers the letter to a bearded man, who runs a yeshiva that was founded by Asher’s father. The two of them have a few conversations about the work of Mr. Lev before Asher leaves Rome.
Asher goes to Paris, where he takes a small room at a hotel. He is haunted once again by dreams of his mythic ancestor who served a noble gentleman in Russia. Asher receives a message to meet with Avraham Cutler, who is the head of the yeshiva in Paris. They discuss Asher’s paintings. Avraham asks him what the Rebbe says about his paintings, but Asher has never asked him what he thought. Asher receives a letter from his parents, who do not understand why he plans to stay longer in Europe. His mother misses him, but his father sends him his blessing. He receives a beret from Anna Schaeffer, but he puts it in a drawer and wears his old fishing cap.
Asher has problems painting. He is bothered still by dreams of his mythic ancestor. He thinks of his mother and her torment over her brother’s death and her worries about her husband’s travels. Asher decides he will paint her standing by the window, lashed by the arms to the blinds, with his father and him on either side of it. He knows it is odd that a Jew would paint a crucifixion scene, but he feels that Judaism has no image for that level of torment. Anna Schaeffer shows up at his apartment in Paris to see what he has been working on. He shows her the one of his mother, along with a similar painting he did but with which he was dissatisfied. Anna says that they are great paintings, and calls them Brooklyn Crucifixion I and Brooklyn Crucifixion II. He sends them after her to New York for his next exhibition. He then returns to New York in the middle of a snowstorm.
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Asher returns home to find his parents’ apartment empty. He calls a family friend and learns that they are at the University of Chicago, dealing with student unrest there. He looks at his old room through a flood of memories. After a restless night, he goes to the synagogue, where he is warmly welcomed home. He sees Rav Yosef Cutler, the mashpia of the school where he studied.
At home, Asher receives a long-distance call from his parents in Chicago. They are upset that they are not there to welcome him home. Afterward, he walks the streets of Brooklyn and visits some of his old spots. He meets Reb Krinsky, who has a daughter now and another baby on the way. Asher’s uncle is very fat now and asks if there will be any paintings of naked women. Asher assures him there will not be, so Uncle Yitzchok says he will come.
Asher’s nervousness about the paintings of the crucifixion grows. He calls Anna Schaeffer and expresses his uneasiness. She tells him that they have already been bought by a museum in New York. Asher is overwhelmed that his reputation has grown this much. He learns that Jacob Kahn has had major surgery on his stomach and is very unwell. He visits him in his home, seeing how frail and sickly he is. Mrs. Kahn says that the doctors are optimistic.
Mr. and Mrs. Lev return home, excited about Asher’s exhibition. Asher does not warn them about the crucifixions. He goes to the gallery, where he finds a large crowd. He talks to many of the people. When he sees his parents arrive, he guides them to the opposite side of the gallery from the crucifixions. Soon the crowd spots Mr. and Mrs. Lev, recognizing them from the painting. People begin to whisper among themselves. Mr. Lev spots his wife’s face in the painting. He goes to examine it, and Asher follows with his mother. His parents say nothing as they look at themselves in such a non-Jewish setting. They leave without saying anything to Asher, who follows them. He tries to explain, but they get in a cab and go home. Asher does not see them for a few days, since they try to be out of the apartment whenever Asher is there.
The exhibition is a success, with very good reviews. Asher’s parents still refuse to talk about the paintings. When the exhibition finally gets a negative review, Mr. Lev has his wife ask Asher if he is all right. The Rebbe tells Asher that he is out of the yeshiva and that he must leave. Asher decides to go back to...
(The entire section is 485 words.)