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My Name is Asher Lev

Chaim Potok

Chapter 12

Chapter 11

Chapter 13

Summary

Asher notices that his parents have developed a collection of shared memories and experiences of which he is not a part. The years living away from each other have produced a remarkable distance. Asher's father was highly successful in Europe and has become one of the most powerful and well-respected men in the Ladover community. As Asher sees it, this has given him the self-confidence not to be threatened by Asher's artwork. Asher's word no longer enrages him.

Rivkeh asks Asher if there will be nudes in his next show—if so, his father will not come. She talks to him about a young girl they are looking at for him to marry. Asher just laughs, as he is not even close to ready for that. A few months later, Rivkeh again asks Asher if there will be nudes at his show and Asher replies again that he does not know.

Aryeh asks Asher about the Russian and French he has been learning. Asher tells him that it has been useful because many interesting art books have been written in French or Russian. Aryeh does not like this response. He asks Asher whether he will be able to join his parents in the Berkshires that summer. Asher responds that he will need to paint, since he will be having a show the following January.

Aryeh tries to talk to Asher about Art. Asher tries to explain that he paints his feelings. Aryeh says that sometimes, feelings should be concealed. Asher talks to Jacob about his father. Jacob tells him that his father simply cannot understand art, so he should not continually allow it to frustrate him. Many great men, he says, do not have an aesthetic sense.

Asher and Jacob go to Chicago to see a Matisse exhibit. When Asher returns, his father is upset that he did not tell him he was going to Chicago, as he might have wanted Asher to deliver something for him. On subsequent trips, Asher's father gives him letters, which are collected from him by people who meet him as he steps off his flight.

Asher tells his mother he will be in Provincetown for the summer and she asks if he can spend two weeks in the Berkshires. Asher asks whether his father will let him paint, since he needs all of his time for painting. Asher spends the entire summer in Provincetown and comes back without payos. His father seems relieved that he still has his beard and wears his ritual fringes. Rivkeh asks about the nudes again and Asher says that he might have to include them in the show.

When Anna and Jacob come to pick up the paintings for the show, Asher hesitates over letting them take the nudes, but allows them to. The show was, by the standards of the art world, a remarkable success. A previously harsh critic comments that Asher has surpassed Kahn. But Asher's parents do not attend.

That Friday night, Asher's mother asks if he will have another show soon. This starts Aryeh on a tirade and he tells Asher that it is hurtful to have people with whom he works ask him why his son paints naked women. Asher tries to explain that there is a difference between naked women and nudes.

Later that week, Aryeh asks Asher to explain to him articles that were written about his show; Asher tries to get him to understand the language of art, but to no avail. Eventually, they both give up. Asher does not see Jacob Kahn for a long while. Asher begins to plan a trip to Europe. Jacob Kahn had told him that, "Florence is a gift."

Analysis

When Asher's father mentions to Asher that trips to Chicago are expensive, Asher replies that he has plenty of money. This is the first reference Asher makes to the wealth he has accumulated through his shows. Unlike Anna, who after each show has made some reference to the financial success it has brought, Asher has been seemingly unconcerned with the monetary effects of his art. His lifestyle has not significantly changed, he still lives with his family, and he does not buy flashy cars or anything of that sort. His core commitment is to his art. He does not use his money to satisfy materialistic urges, he does not seem to have materialistic urges. To engage in such behavior would be to act in a way the Ladover community, his parents, would find inappropriate; Asher seems to save such acts of rebellion only for his artistic advancement.

In this chapter, Asher finally grows to understand how completely different he and his father are. At the beginning of the chapter, he does not realize this and is frustrated by his father's inability to relate to what he does when he paints. Kahn tells Asher that his father simply has an "aesthetic blindness." Asher does not realize the extent of this, though, until his father actually makes an effort to understand art. Asher spends many days trying to explain it to him. In the end, though, he has no way of relating to art, since it does not fit within his conceptual scheme. At this point, Asher realizes that his father simply will not, cannot understand his world.

At the end of the chapter, Asher decides to travel to Europe. Approximately the last page of the chapter starts and ends with the sentence, "Florence is a gift, Jacob Kahn had said." In between the two occurrences of this sentence, however, Asher talks to his parents about his plans to travel. This structure allows Potok to convey a difference between Asher's motivations for his trip and his parents' understanding of the trip. Asher wants to travel to Europe because Kahn has spoken highly of it, particularly of Florence. Asher wants to go to Florence to see the mostly Christian artwork. Jacob's father, however, sees in this a way of connecting with his son. As soon as Asher tells him of his intentions, Aryeh begins excitedly talking about the things important to him. He will give Asher the names of people, presumably Ladover and Orthodox Jews whom he ought to visit while there. He will also tell Asher where he can find kosher food. Though Asher's father sees Asher's interest in Europe as a way of connecting to his son, he is sadly mistaken. He neither understands why Asher is traveling, nor does he appreciate the things that Asher wishes to find in Europe.

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