Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Brooklyn. New York City borough in whose Crown Heights neighborhood Asher Lev and his family live. Asher’s home is a small, two-bedroom apartment not far from Brooklyn Parkway and a collection of Jewish establishments. A block and a half from this home stands the three-story, Gothic-style building in which his father, Reb Aryeh Lev, works for the Ladover headquarters of his Hasidic community. From this place the Rebbe, or spiritual leader of the community, sends Reb Aryeh Lev on journeys across the country and to Europe.
The Jewish community in which Asher grows up is populated with a jewelry shop owned by Asher’s Uncle Yitzchok Lev, Reb Yudel Krinsky’s stationery store where Asher buys art supplies and learns about persecution of the Jews in Russia, a yeshiva where Asher attends school, and a synagogue where the family worships. This part of Brooklyn is filled with the people whom Asher first learns to draw and admire. In this place his talents begin to emerge, and he feels his future is tied to this community. When given the opportunity to travel to Vienna with his parents, ten-year-old Asher fights to stay in Brooklyn, where he knows the parks and people.
While his father is away, Asher’s mother takes him to the Parkway Museum for the first time. There, he learns about painting and also encounters scenes depicting the crucifixion of Christ. Although Asher is cautioned by his father against looking at such paintings, he sees in these crucifixion themes a curious portrayal of profound suffering and love, a theme Asher ultimately incorporates into his own painting of his parents and himself.
Lev home. Because Asher’s mother, Rivkeh Lev, loses her brother in an automobile accident while he is traveling for...
(The entire section is 740 words.)
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Abramson, Edward A. Chaim Potok. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Chapter four is devoted entirely to My Name Is Asher Lev and includes sections on “Judaism and the Visual Arts,” “The Individual and the Community,” “Ancestors and Fathers,” and “Artistic and Stylistic Development.” Also of interest are the book’s first and last chapters entitled “From Rabbi to Writer” and “The Writer Arrived.” Abramson includes a six-page selected bibliography.
Kremer, S. Lillian. “Dedalus in Brooklyn: Influences of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man on My Name Is Asher Lev.” Studies in Jewish American Literature 4 (1985): 26-38. Finds “the mark of James Joyce indelibly stamped on the third and fourth novels of Chaim Potok,” particularly in the use of “monologue, stream of consciousness techniques, and epiphany.”
Pinsker, Sanford. “The Crucifixion of Chaim Potok/The Excommunication of Asher Lev: Art and the Hasidic World.” Studies in Jewish American Literature 4 (1985): 39-51. Calls the novel a Kunstlerroman, a novel of an artist’s education, and views Asher Lev’s departure at the novel’s end as “a kind of exile, a kind of excommunication.”
Sgan, Arnold D. “The Chosen, The Promise, and My Name Is Asher Lev.” The English Journal 66 (March, 1977): 63-64. Erroneously calls Potok a psychologist but offers useful plot summaries and themes for each novel. Discusses Potok’s place in high school units on “Ethnic Literature” or “The Search for Identity.”
Stern, David. Review of My Name Is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok. Commentary 54 (October, 1972): 102, 104. Traces some of the similarities between the main characters in The Chosen, The Promise, and My Name Is Asher Lev and sees in those characters’ dilemmas “the dilemma of modern religious Judaism itself.”
Walden, Daniel, ed. Studies in American Jewish Literature 4 (1985). This issue, entitled “The World of Chaim Potok,” contains articles on My Name Is Asher Lev cited above and other articles of interest.