Chaim Potok was born in New York City in 1929. He graduated from Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, was ordained as a rabbi, and earned his PhD in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He also served as editor of the Jewish Publication Society of America. Potok's first novel, The Chosen, published in 1967, received the Edward Lewis Wallant Memorial Book Award and was nominated for the National Book Award. He is author of eight novels, including In the Beginning and My Name Is Asher Lev, and Wanderings, a history of the Jews. He died in 2002.
When Asher Lev, an internationally famous painter, returns from exile in France to his native Brooklyn to attend his uncle's funeral, he begins a struggle with his own destiny. His son and daughter learn to know their grandparents, and his wife develops a loving relationship with his mother. But Asher knows he cannot remain in America, for his devotion to his family and his religious beliefs are pitted against his artistic survival. Potok is a master of words. His descriptive images of Jewish life and Lev's emotional turmoil are to be savored. However, his frequent references to events in his previous novels are often confusing and distracting. Any library containing Potok's works needs his latest effort to complete the collection, but most YAs will find this story too bland to hold their attention. --Katherine Fitch, Jefferson Sci-Tech, Alexandria, VA
In his first novel in five years, Potok brings back the Hasidic artist hero of My Name Is Asher Lev . Now living in France, Asher is deeply disturbed by the reviews of his latest show, which criticize his paintings as facile self-imitation. When he learns of the death of his favorite uncle, he returns to Brooklyn with his family for a funeral reunion with fellow Ladover Hasids. In America, Asher is assailed by memories and surprises: his uncle had amassed important artworks, and Asher is made responsible for the collection. He also faces a crisis in his own work, and yet another dilemma when he realizes that his son Avrumel has a chance to inherit the mantle of the Ladover rabbi if the boy remains in Brooklyn under the the sect leader's special tutelage. Asher understands that because the religious community looks upon his art as the work of the devil, his professional survival depends on his remaining geographically outside of the world in which he was raised. Potok again provides an instructive look at the power of Hasidism, building dramatic tension in the pull between the sacred and the profane. The plot is bogged down by too many details of art techniques and wooden dialogue, however, and the story often lumbers earnestly on the way to its by-no-means-foregone conclusion. 75,000 first printing; BOMC alternate. (May)
In his seventh novel Potok returns to the artist Asher Lev, exiled from his Ladover Hasidic community in Brooklyn for 20 years. Shaken by critics' reactions to his latest show and the death of his favorite uncle, Lev comes back from France with his wife and children for the funeral. The rest of the novel deals with his family's easy assimilation into the closely knit religious community and his professional and spiritual crisis, which is compounded by the enigmatic demands of the Rebbe, the group's spiritual leader. Ultimately, Lev makes a decision affecting his life and that of his beloved son. As usual Potok interweaves historical and cultural information to create a ponderous story. Despite a slow plot, heavy style, and wooden characters, the satisfying resolution of the novel's familiar uplifting theme will appeal to Potok's fans. Public libraries will want this for their current collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/90.--Elizabeth Guiney Sandvick, North Hennepin Community Coll., Minneapolis
"Extraordinary . . . No one but Chaim Potok could have written this strangely sweet, compelling, and deeply felt novel."--The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A masterwork."--Newsday "Rivals anything Chaim Potok has ever produced. It is a book written with passion about passion. You're not likely to read anything better this year."--The Detroit News "Fascinating."--The Washington Post Book World "Very moving."--The Philadelphia Inquirer