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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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Father and Son – a book recommendation

MS0700_1949_H_Biography_JS

I’m reading Father and Son by Edmund Gosse, and want to recommend it to you.

Father and Son is an autobiography that records a boy’s upbringing in a puritanical household.

The father, Philip Gosse, was one of the blindly faithful, a sombre fellow who recorded his son’s birth with this emotionally-vacant entry in his journal:

E. delivered of a son. Received green swallow from Jamaica.

Rejecting Darwin

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is that Philip Gosse was a prominent marine biologist, and was approached by Darwin and his supporters in search of support for their new theory.

Philip Gosse struggled to reconcile his fundamental faith in the Bible with Darwin’s theory of evolution, so he rejected it and wrote a book that expounded an alternative theory. He believed that his book, his ‘Omphalos’ would ‘bring all the turmoil of scientific speculation to a close’ and ‘fling geology into the arms of Scripture’. But:

…alas! atheists and Christians alike looked at it, and laughed, and threw it away.


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Ulysses made me do a bad thing…

I did something very usual. I read half of Ulysses, eventually succumbing to my hatred for the book.

Ulysses is awful. I read half of it, hated every word, and was eventually persuaded to stop reading it. Why read a book that you don’t like?

I know that Ulysses is full of jokes and clever references and devices, but I don’t care. I couldn’t read it and get anything from it. I’ve yet to meet anyone that has finished Ulysses, let alone enjoyed it. It seems that Ulysses is most suited to academics, who can spend their lives picking apart Joyce’s trivial game. For those who just want to read, rather than study, books, I recommend something other than Ulysses.

Only reading half of Ulysses was a first for me. Before Ulysses I finished every book that I started (as an adult). Now, having accepted the notion that life is short and my time better spent reading books I understand and enjoy, I can’t stop stopping!

Here are the books that I’ve recently abandoned:

  • This Book Will Save Your Life – A.M. Homes
  • The Bone People – Keri Hulme
  • Rabbit, Run – John Updike
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

So, what do you think? Is it better to abandon books you don’t enjoy, or should you persevere and see how they end?

(Picture courtesy of Benny Lin)


My Name is Asher Lev: a short book review

My Name is Asher Lev is a story about the battle between a...
article post

Father and Son – a book recommendation

I’m reading Father and Son by Edmund Gosse, and want...
article post

Ulysses made me do a bad thing…

I did something very usual. I read half of Ulysses,...
article post