(Warning: Plot spoiler!)
When I read "My Name is Asher Lev" for the first time, I was seventeen. I loved it. I declared that I wanted to name my first son "Asher" after the main character. I was sucked into the descriptions of him drawing all day everyday in a Jewish community in Brooklyn. I was envious of his artistic genius and his expansive access to all the finest art museums. I got so hung up on the glamorous details of Asher's artistic life and brain that I failed to focus on the larger, looming plot.
This time, the relationships in the story took precedence for me and it felt achingly sad and difficult to read. A lump in my throat settled into place during the hours it took me to finish.
The story takes an extreme case of conflicting traditions with Asher, a Hasidic Jewish boy who has essentially no choice but to paint because of his raw genius; an occupation regarded as evil nonsense to his strict religious community and parents. In the end, he paints his masterpiece; a deeply expressive and honest work that costs him being exiled from his community and disowned by his parents.
In reading the novel this time, I agonized over his decision to alienate everyone from his background for the sake of pursuing his expertise. The first time I read it, I was convinced that his decision had been correct. I felt that he'd been true to himself despite cultural pressures to deny himself of his genius. I reveled and supported him inwardly. But now as someone who has returned from a similar choice to deny myself of my background and upbringing; as someone who sees herself as a prodigal daughter; I find myself evaluating the qualities I shared with Asher as selfish, inward thinking, and immature.
Although my own decision to deny myself of my background was not based on following the traditions of art versus the traditions of my upbringing, I find myself hoping that there is a happy-medium or in-between as I begin my education as a graphic designer. I begin thinking that art can become so selfishly consumed with attempting to break boundaries or achieve a whole new level of shock factor. Can't you stay true to your religion and culture and still become successful in the design/art world? I am convinced there is a way or else I would never pursue it. My family and the creative process are the two things that grant me the most joy in life, and I don't think I'm required to give up one for the other, thank goodness. I am glad that I finished this book in a matter of a few days so that I don't have to exist in a world where such a stark choice must be made.