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.