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My Name is Asher Lev: a short book review


Jacob Kahn in gevecht met 'n wit doek

My Name is Asher Lev is a story about the battle between a deeply religious man and his artistic son.

The boy’s art is seen as pointless and silly. The boy is faithful, but he can’t deny his talent.

Time passes, and father and son grow slowly apart, with the mother caught between two people she loves.

The book culminates with the boy, now a young man, painting a crucifix. Now this painting of a crucifix is a big deal. Deeply Jewish people do not normally paint crucifixes, mainly because it’s the symbol of christians, and christians and Jews have a history of… urm, issues.

My Name is Asher Lev is a fantastic book, which I’m not doing justice to here, but the book troubled me in one respect, because it demands an appreciation of this blasphemy, the outrage of Asher’s painting of a crucifix. You have to get on board with their observant Jewish lifestyle, and get just how significant Asher’s painting is.

I was doing quite well, and was feeling moved by the story, but I would occasionally slip out of the story and feel puzzled beyond words that:

  1. Some people fashion their hair into twirly curls because they think an entity they’ve never seen wants them to.
  2. Some people worship a man who may have died on a cross many years ago because they believe he’s the son of a god.
  3. The rival groups are so tortured over each other that to adopt the imagery of one cult by another (for a painting) is an intolerable ‘blasphemy’ that threatens to rip a family apart.
  4. That people choose to shackle themselves to belief systems, even when they bring misery.

So yes, Asher Lev is a great book, but sometimes it was hard to understand the intensity of the situations, mainly because I don’t do faith – at least not faith in the supernatural.

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