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...

(The entire section is 508 words.)