My Name is Asher Lev

From Goodreads

I have never heard of this book until a colleague mentioned it to me. It’s a book that is often read by college freshmen. Since I missed that cue, I decided to read it to see what I missed. It makes sense to hand this to college freshmen though, the book explores parent-child relationships, the pain and fear of leaving home and learning that maybe your parents’ way of life isn’t going to work for you exactly.

Asher Lev is growing up in Brooklyn as an Hasidic Jew. His father is an important member of the synagogue who travels extensively for the Rebbe and his mother seems content to wait at the window for him to come home. Asher’s art though gets him through even as it causes many of his family’s problems over the years. His father does not understand his art and seems to see it as an affliction sent by God to try him. His mother spends their lives trying to be a bridge between the father and son, usually failing which leads to Asher’s masterpiece, Brooklyn Crucifixion.

I liked this book a lot and appreciated what it was trying to accomplish. I can’t say I much cared for any of the characters but that’s because I feel like I didn’t get to know them very well. So much of them is never explained, even Asher who is telling you the story. I also found them hard to relate to because honestly, I never had these sorts of problems. Asher’s story of growing up was completely foreign to me, even when generalizing it.

I loved the art aspects to the story though. I always wanted to have the sort of talent Asher is born with – his eye is supposedly spectacular when it comes to painting. I did like the author’s choice in not giving many details about his work until the last masterpiece which is the final crisis in Asher’s life with his parents. I learned early to appreciate art since I couldn’t seem to create it. Asher’s story is about the joy and pain in being able to create and what it does to his very traditional, very religious family.

This was the part of the story that I just couldn’t seem to care much about – the religious aspect. I don’t come from a religious family and though my friends were always willing to share their religions with me, which was fun to explore lots of different religions, I was always vaguely uncomfortable with religion in general. Watching how much Asher struggles with it, I again realized I don’t feel a sense of loss for not having that growing up. Religion always seems to complicate things, make you question what you feel is right for you. It can also have the opposite effect but Asher’s story just seems to show the pain of having that tradition weighing on you as you try to grow into the person you need to be.

Lastly, and where it seemed to be a good book for college freshmen, was the parent-child relationship explored with Asher and his parents. Asher is a disappointment to his father, a strict traditionalist who doesn’t comprehend his son’s artistic talents. His mother is caught between two needy men in her life who expect her to choose their side. Again, I could understand these issues but I’ve never experienced them; in fact, this book made me want to call up my parents and thank them. They always let me be exactly who I was, even when they weren’t sure where I came from. My whole family did. They sat through chorus concerts and high school musicals and tried to act interested when they asked what I was reading. I always appreciated that even if I didn’t say it. This book make me grateful that they always asked even more.

Overall, I liked this book; it made me think even if it was kind of a depressing book on many levels but it made me dive into all my art museum books this past week so it’s been lovely to have an excuse to revisit them.

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Family Times

When family comes to visit, I have time for nothing else. Last week was fairly quiet at work. I finished another box on Thursday and was out at Fullerton in Virginia all day on Friday. My parents and Ally got here on Saturday afternoon. I went with them to their hotel over in Georgetown. It was a very nice hotel – I was impressed. After they settled in, we walked down to Foggy Bottom to get them metro cards for the next two days. We’d made plans to meet Kathy and Scott on the waterfront from dinner so we were going to head to Georgetown. We took the bus over to Kennedy Center and walked down past Watergate and the waterfront into downtown Georgetown and the shopping district. I got a a great deal in H&M and we wondered the Shops at Georgetown (a mall) before we headed back to the waterfront. We ate at Tony and Joe’s, a seafood restaurant right on the docks – it was a beautiful night.

The next day we did the Smithsonian Zoo in the morning. Mom got to see her pandas. Her and Daddy went early so Mom actually got to see them moving. All I saw them doing was sleep – lol. The sea lions were the best to watch though and they had tons of a personal favorite, the golden lion tamerin. It got pretty crowded by the beginning of the afternoon so we headed out. We had planned to do the monuments this night but it started to pour just after we got off the metro at L’Enfant. So we headed back to Union Station so Dad could take pictures somewhere. 🙂

The next morning, Ally and I did the Holocaust Memorial Museum while Mom and Dad did the Air & Space Museum. It was my third time doing the Holocaust Museum and I got through it this time without crying once – I am making progress. After we met up with Mom and Dad, we went and ate at the Natural History Museum and then went and visited the new Jim Henson exhibit at the International Gallery. I am in love with this exhibit – it has some of Henson’s earliest artwork along with lots of video footage throughout. Not too mention, puppets of Kermit, the Fraggles, Bert and Ernie, Rowlf and more. I am totally going back several times. Its open until October so anyone coming down – you must go!

After that, we went back to the hotel for a bit before driving back down to eat dinner. We ate at an Italian restaurant at the Ronald Reagan building – I had this fabulous Primavera dish. Afterwards, we walked over to see the White House so Ally could see it before she left again. From there, we drove over to the Capitol building and Dad took pictures forever. Thankfully, there was a band playing on the Capitol Steps so I did some swing dancing on the lawn of the Capitol to entertain myself. We did a family picture too – our first since Ally could talk. It’s been awhile…Next was the Lincoln Memorial and we got to meet up with Aunt Michele, Uncle Joe and Joey here so that was great. We then walked down to the World War II memorial. This is very close to my favorite one – it was beautiful to see at night with all the lights in the water.

The next morning, the family took off for Atlantic City, Ally shoved into the backseat (luckily, I managed to get my stuff on the route home – not much leg room because of it though – sorry!). I got to meet Aunt Michele, Uncle Joe and Joey for lunch yesterday luckily. I had them meet me at the food court at the NMAI – the best food court of the Smithsonian which they loved so I was glad we got to eat together then 🙂

The rest of this week is shaping up. I’m back at Fullerton on Friday. The new Batman movie comes out this weekend and I’m off to Gettysburg of all places on Sunday. First time back since I graduated so it’s going to be weird but good. I’m excited for some Rita’s and dinner at LD’s again though 🙂