Okay, so this is a book I read somewhere at the start of last year- so I can’t even say it’s something left over from December, so… whoops?
In all honesty, I’ve had trouble getting my head round it. Unlike the Chosen, the other Potok book I read last year, I did not fall instantly in love with it. Quite simply, this was because while the writing was beautiful the main character was a bit of a git.
A long while ago I wrote an opinion piece about not giving life for art, but that’s exactly what I feel Asher Lev does. His parents give him everything- trying to help him become the artist he dreams of being- but he throws it back in their face for no reason. I guess the premise makes sense- an ultraorthodox family trying to get in the way of a young artist’s dreams- but in actuality the artist is a selfish jerk. He just doesn’t care about other people- he is too obsessed with his own pursuits. Does that make him a genius? Not to my mind.
Because he was constantly helped (if not encouraged) to pursue his dreams, it makes the clash of cultures between the Jewish and Christian world a false dichotomy. It’s why I inevitably did not understand his deal with painting crucifixes. I could make arguments that he felt the weight of the artistic tradition and that is why he was compelled to make disrespectful paintings of his parents- but it is apparent earlier that he does not understand the artistic tradition when he paints nudes and cannot explain that either. He’s almost possessed by the desire to paint- but not in a way that makes sense. It felt less a marriage of two cultures and more a disrespectful flaunting of his parents privacy. In short, the message of the book- wherever that was- felt lost on me.
Needless to say this book got under my skin- and not in a good way. I never thought this book would feel so alien, but there you go. Still the writing was so well done and well written that I cannot give it less than:
Rating: 3/5 bananas
One perplexed Orangutan…
So have you read this book? Care to enlighten me about it? Or do you have a book that left you equally perplexed? Let me know in the comments!