Potok, Chaim: My Name Is Asher Lev
(researched by Rebecca Graham)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

Publisher- Alfred A. Knopf place- New York, New York date- 1972
The first edition was also simultaneously published in 1972, inToronto, Canada by Random House of Canada Limited.

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

The first edition was published in cloth.

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

188 leaves, 3-369

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

The book is neither edited, nor introduced.

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

There are no illustrations in the book.

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

Overall the book has been laid out very well. The pages have wide borders and the text is written clearly and laid out in a manner which makes it easy to read and understand. The type appears to be fairly la
rge. The chapters as well as the different units, or books within the story, are all marked clearly as well.

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

The paper is very strong and seems to be quite durable as it has held up for 26 years, existinig in a public library, with
no visible tears or wearing of the pages. It is fairly smooth and appears to have yellowed with age.

11 Description of binding(s)

The book has a stitched binding.

12 Transcription of title page

MY/NAME/IS/ASHER/LEV/ Alfred A. Knopf New York, 1972/ Chaim/Potok

13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings


15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

The book was printed and set on the Linotype in Granjon. -This sort of type was named after Robert Granjon, yet it was not a completely original creation, nor was it strictly a copy of a classic face.
-The binding and typography were designed by Anthea Lingeman. -Before the story begins, there is an opening page with a quote transcribed on it. It states- "Art Is a Lie which makes us realize the truth"/ -Picasso

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A

Alfred A. Knopf also published the Book of the Month Edition in 1972, the same year as the first edition.

2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

1. The book was first printed in paperback by Fawcett Crest, New York, in April, 1973. 2. First Ballantine Books Mass Market Edition, April 1983. -their thirty-second printing was in 1991 3. First Ballantine Books Trade Paperback Edition, August 1996

6 Last date in print?

The last publication date that I was able to find was in August, 1996 by Ballantine Books.

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

-The book was published in April of 1972 and, according to Publishers Weekly, it had sold 64,000 copies by August of that same year.

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)


9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

I was unable to locate any advertising copies for this book.

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion


12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

There are no performances in other media that I could find.

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A


14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A

15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A

There is a sequel to this book entitled: The Gift of Asher Lev. The first edition of this book was printed in 1990 by Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

Chaim Potok is a very intriguing, male, Jewish-American author living in the late twentieth century. He was born on February 17th, 1929 in New York City, New York to his father, Benjamin Max, and his mother, Mollie Potok. His parents were both Orthodox Jews who had very strict religious perspectives on life. As Potok grew up in the Bronx, he began to realize conflicts within his life as an orthodox jew and the life of the larger world which emphasized different values. Potok still refers to this difference in values as a "cultural confrontation" (Abramson 1). Potok received much pressure, from his family and friends, to maintain older cultural and religious values while he, himself, wished to also explore the "pagan" values of secular American culture as well. This inner-conflict is reflected in his writing. The majority of Potok's main characters all must struggle to come to terms with the differences and pressures of old orthodox views, as well as the modern views of American society. Potok believes that this conflict within himself and his characters creates a person who is able to live between two different cultures gaining knowledge and insight from both, yet, sadly, paying the price by never feeling totally comfortable and at home in just one culture. (Abramson 1-4) Potok attended Yeshiva University where he received a B.A. in English Literature in 1950. He then moved on to become an ordained conservative rabbi in 1954. Finally, in 1965, Potok received his Ph. D. in Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. Potok published his first novel, The Chosen, at the age of 34 in 1967. It became an instant success and bestseller. His next novel, The Promise came out two years later in 1969. In 1927 he published My Name is Asher Lev, another best seller which lasted for six months on the best seller list. He went on to write many more novels, yet, has not made the best seller list with any of them. These novels include In the Beginning (1975), The Book of Lights (1981), Davita's Harp (1985), The Gift of Asher Lev (1990), and I am the Clay (1992). Potok has also written many different children's books, non-fiction works, plays, short stories, articles, reviews, and novellas. He has been awarded The Edward Lewis Wallant award for The Chosen, The Athenaeum Prize for The Promise, and The National Jewish Book Award for Fiction for The Gift of Asher Lev. Chaim Potok is still alive, and resides with his family in Merion, Pennsylvania.
Works Cited:
1. http://www.lasierra.edu/~ballen/potok/Potok.biographical.html 2. Abramson, Edward A. Chaim Potok. Twayne Publishers: Boston, 1986.

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

"My Name Is Asher Lev" received very divided criticism. Many reviewers gave it positive criticism for the ideas and creativity behind the story itself, while at the same time mentioning the poor characterizations and monotonous use of language. Peter Dollard, in the Library Journal discusses both of these views in his review when he says, "Criticisms can be made of the novel- its lack of a sense of play, its overt informational bent, the flatness of its characterizations-but,as an accurate, easily comprehensible, and well-imagined portrait of the artist as a child and young man, it should reach a wide audience."
Many said that the weak descriptions of Asher's artwork leave his genius as something to be desired. Several reviewers commented that Asher's childhood and the development of his talent were portrayed very realistically and were interesting. However,later in the novel, when Asher becomes a young artist on his own, the description of his artistic talent seems to lack a sense of depth and reality: "We are constantly told of Asher Lev's prodiguous talent, and of the extent to which he suffers for his art , but from Potok's banal and sentimental descriptions of his painting, Asher Lev sounds dreadfully untalented." [David Stern, "Two Worlds", Commentary, October, 1972; p102,104] "The childhood and youth of the burning genius are recounted in some detail, but Asher never really comes to life, and when we read the descriptions of his pictures, his final success seems unlikely." [ Anthony Barson, "The Artist as a Novel" in the Christian Science Monitor; June 14, 1972, p11] " His later work is smoothly announced as art of geniu, but the triumphant struggle has left the painting and the writing about the painting, and we no longer believe it either." ["In Goyish Mould," Times Literary Supplement, No. 3683,October 6, 1972;p1148]
Another criticism of the work is the lack of plot and flatness of characters. Most critics comment on this lack of dimension within Asher's relationship with his family as well as his characterization in general; "The succession of simple declarative sentences becomes cloying and sweet, the dialogue sticky. It is impossible, for example, to distinguish one voice from another. Everyone talks the same way and every speech is full of clotted wisdom." [Thomas Lask, "The Heir and His Heritage," The New York Times v121, April 2l; p37]
Several positive reviews seem to applaud Potok's ability to create such a believable story. He has been praised for being able to capture the life of a Hasidic Jew, as well as create a story which could easily be true. "My Name Is Asher Lev has even gone so far as to by compared to that of the "Agony and the Ecstasy." It is these same critics who seem to also praise or look beyond his "plain" writing style; "Potok's novels are deceptively plain. He uses no rhetoric, no ostentation of syle, neither of which he needs. One feels that his subject was inevitable and that he is writing with deepest and total understanding. As in all good fiction, Mr. Potok makes us believe that his stories are true, that they could only have been as he has told them. His voice is honest and guileless, but most of all it is compassionate." [Davenport, Guy - New York Times Book Review, April 16, 1972 p5,18) "The prayers, greetings, customs and attitudes of Hasidic Jews toll through the book; the writer is on intimate, respectful, but his own terms with them, and they are naturally and objectively conveyed. The opening of the boy's eyes to the riches, the compelling possibilities in every fall of light, in every demonstration of life in nature or in a human face, is marvellously done: one really believes in Asher's awakening powers." ["In the Goyish Mould," The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3683, October 6, 1972, p1184.] "As a work of popular fiction for the average reader this could be one of the more successful novels about becoming a painter since, "The Agony and the Ecstasy." [Publisher's Weekly v201, February 21, p111.]

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

After five years following the first publication of "My Name Is Asher Lev," there it is difficult to find many non-academic reviews. Chaim Potok is still alive and He continues to write both fictiona and non-fiction. Thus, it is only when a new book is published that "Asher Lev" is only mentioned briefly in the subsequent book's review.
In the world of Fine Arts, there is still some discussion of the book, because it seems to appeal to a more artistic audience. In 1983, "School Arts" magazine wrote a very positive review on the novel. The review seemed to find great sympathy for Asher's struggle as an artist. It glorified his talents and even stated that this was a very "compelling book." The review did not seem to mention what other, earlier, reviews had considered very weak, and monotonous prose and writing. "School Arts", ultimately stated that, "All persons who work with highly talented young people should read this moving and sensitive story as a background to understanding the joys and anguish that accompany the development of superior artistic talents."
works cited: "My Name Is Asher Lev", School Arts v82(January, 1983): 22

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

In 1972, Alfred A. Knopf published the book, My Name Is Asher Lev. It is a story about a young Jewish artist struggling with the differing aspects of both his strict, Hasidic background and his emergence into th
e modern, secular society. Although Chaim Potok's novel may seem to only appeal to a merely Jewish or Art oriented crowd, it reached the best seller list almost immediately in April of 1972. There are many possible conclusions that one can make when tr
ying to distinguish exactly why a novel with such focused subject matter could appeal to a large audience and so quickly become a bestseller. First, one must take in to account the fact that Chaim Potok was at this point, in 1972, a well-known author, as he had already published one best seller. The Chosen, published in 1967 was written when Potok was 34. Similarly, it is also seems to embod
y Potok's views and beliefs about Judaism, and his compassion for the lives of Hasidic Jews growing up in Brooklyn. However, different from Asher Lev, this novel is about the relationship and conflict between two Jewish boys and their rivalry and compe
tition that turns into a sort of holy war. It only seems to explore their life within their small community as well. Four years later, after having published another, less successful novel entitled The Promise, Potok decided to write My Name Is Asher
Lev. In this novel he decides to explore a different kind of confrontation than the ones that appear in his earlier novels. In his first to novels the confrontations arise within one kind of community and background, thus the main characters have simila
r beliefs and cultures so it becomes easier for the reader to grasp and resolve each conflict as he reads each novel. In My Name Is Asher Lev, Potok decides to create a problem that cannot be "compartmentalized." He chooses to create a problem that "..
.seeps into all areas of your life because it involves your feelings, the deepest kinds of emotions that you have," (http://www.lasierra.edu/~ballen/potok/Potok.uniquehtml#asher). After his success in exploring such a conflict in The Chosen, it becomes a
pparent that a book about a larger conflict with the outside world and larger issues would definitely appeal to an even larger and more varied crowd than Potok's first best seller. Potok was also pushing himself as a writer. In writing Asher Lev, Potok
would be able to create a more emotionally deep and sensitive novel. Another reason for the success of My Name is Asher Lev probably has to do with some of the events that occurred during the time when the book was published. In American history, the late sixties and early seventies held many important social and politic
al movements. The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Cold War all served as catalysts for the change in the thoughts and actions of America's youth. It seemed as if everyone was subject to some sort of change within their lives and thus Am
erica could probably relate to the change and conflict within Asher's life. This was a time when students were protesting and people were trying to outwardly express their beliefs and feelings. Society was much more conservative than many of the liberal thoughts and movements which were saturating it. Thus, with such an atmosp
here of conflict and a sort of liberation within society it was easy for most to relate to the struggle of the young artist named Asher Lev. In his want to express himself in his artwork, he has to find a medium between his strict, conservative, Hasidic
background and the liberal views which he needs to express. Therefore, this book no longer becomes a book about the conflict within one Jewish youth; it becomes a story about the conflicts suffered by society's youth in general. Because of this, one can
understand why this book instantly became a best seller and why it remained as one for six months. Finally the simple controversy of the story might have also been a major contributor to its success. The fact that Asher Lev expresses his own, as well as his mother's, interior distress and convictions in a painting of the Crucifix, a Christian symbol,
when he himself, is an observant Jew is preposterous to many conservative Jews and Christians. This shocking form of expression could probably cause much turmoil and debate about whether or not his art has become a mockery of both religions. Put simply
, the controversy about the religious aspects of the book probably aided a great deal in making this novel a best seller. In discussing the popularity of such a novel, it is also essential to look at what reviewers might have praised about the story itself. My Name Is Asher Lev received many favorable critiques when it first was published. Book reviewers all praised Poto
k for his compassion and his strong sense of creativity. Due to such compassion as well as Potok's knowledge about the subject matter, Potok was admired for writing a story that could become so believable in the reader's eye:
"The prayers, greetings, customs and attitudes of the Hasidic Jews toll through the book; the writer is on intimate, respectful, but his own terms with them, and they are naturally and objectively conveyed. The opening of the boy's eyes to the riches, the compelling possibilities in every fall of light, in every demonstration of life in nature or in a human face, its marvelously done: one really believes in Asher's awakening powers," ("In the Goyish Moul
d," The Times Literary Supplement No. 3683, October 6, 1072, p1184).
Because Potok, himself, was raised in a strict, Hasidic family, he is able to capture the actuality of Asher's situation as if it were his own. The reader is able to see a lot of Chaim Potok within the character of Asher. In the same breath, however, critics were also quick to comment on the negative aspects of the novel as well. Thus, when the book descended off of the best seller list, six months later, it might have been easier for readers to remember some of the nega
tive comments about My Name Is Asher Lev. Mainly, critics were displeased with the monotonous use of language as well as poor characterizations of some of the characters.
"The succession of simple declarative sentences becomes cloying and sweet, the dialogue sticky. It is impossible, for example, to distinguish one voice from another. Everyone talks the same way and every speech is full of clotted wisdom," (Thomas
Lask, "The Heir and His Heritage," The New York Times v121, April 21; p37)
Critics also felt that many of Potok's descriptions of Asher's paintings and abilities were both unbelievable and shallow.
" We are constantly told of Asher Lev's prodigious talent, and of the extent to which he suffers for his art, but from Potok's banal and sentimental descriptions of his paintings, Asher Lev sounds dreadfully untalented," (David Stern, "Two Worlds," C
ommentary, October, 1972; p102,104)
The fact that My Name Is Asher Lev had such divided criticism could also contribute to its status as a best seller. The debate about whether this was a novel with pertinence and depth could be debated by anyone who chose to read it. After publishing My Name Is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok went on to write many more novels, plays and articles mainly focusing on Jewish life, with the same themes of conflict within each. The author himself speaks about his personal genre and how his his own
life experiences have helped to shape both his style and subject matter.
"What I'm trying to explore in my books is one kind of such confrontation of ideas. Of cultures in tension with one another. A kind of tension that I experienced as I grew up and made my way into this world. All of us have one kind or another of ongoi
ng culture confrontation almost every day of our lives. We don't think about it often because by the time we're out of our teens we learn to handle these confrontations almost in the same way as we walk and breathe. It's a kind of choreography that we d
evelop without thinking about it too much. Then along comes the novelist and looks at it, opening it up so that we can more or less see what it is we are really doing without thinking about it. The novelist forces us, if we read the novels, to look at
what it is we are doing and urges us to think about it, to see if something can be learned or understood about ourselves and our species by observing this confrontation,"(http://www.lasierra.edu/~ballen/potok/Potok.uniquehtml#asher).
Perhaps it is for reasons such as this that everyone seems to relate so well to Potok's characters. Potok remains a very distinguished and respected author and is presently a professor at Columbia University, where he teaches English. He does research o
n Jewish culture and heritage and from this research he gives lectures and writes factual articles for journals, etc. His writing and knowledge about the Jewish community are held with great esteem. My Name is Asher Lev has often been compared to The Agony and the Ecstasy. Asher seems to reflect many of the traits of Michelangelo. Both novels study the interior of the artist's mind. They delve into the need of the artist to create and express hi
mself through his artwork. Both main characters are almost consumed by their love of art and their creations. They both find art as an outlet for their emotions and perceptions of the world around them. In My Name Is Asher Lev, Jacob Kahn, Asher's inst
ructor, seems to explain this sense of dependence upon one's own creations in order to express oneself. "I sculpt and paint to give permanence to my feelings about how terrible this world truly is. Nothing is real to me except my own feelings; nothing i
s true except my own feelings as I see them all around me in my sculptures and paintings. I know these feelings are true, because if they are not true they would make art that is as terrible as the world," (226). Chaim Potok has created a very unique story which makes the reader understand some of the struggle behind creating art that is valuable to the artist and thus, his audience as well. The reader understands that art becomes a release, or learning tool wit
h which the artist may use in order to better understand his or her own personal feelings and beliefs. In general, most people find something which can become their own release; their own cathartic way to learn more about themselves and their beliefs. W
hatever activity this may be, it is easy for anyone to relate to the struggle for finding one's own identity and the challenges that one may face along the way. Therefore, it is easy to understand why so many readers were drawn to the struggle and confl
icts of the artist, Asher Lev.

Sources: 1. Potok, Chaim. My Name Is Asher Lev: Alred A. Knopf, New York:1972 2. http://www.lasiera.edu/~ballen/potok/Potok.uniquehtml#asher 3. Stern, David, "Two Worlds," Commentary, October, 1972; p102,104) 4. "In the Goyish Mould," The Times Literary Supplement No. 3683, October 6, 1072, p1184). 5. Encarta ?95 6. Lask, Thomas "The Heir and His Heritage," The New York Times v121, April 21; p37

Supplemental Material

CONTEMPORARY BOOK REVIEWS: American Libraries, V3, October 1972 p1015 Booklist, V68, June 15, 1972 p888 Booklist, V68, July 1, 1972, p940 Bestsellers, v33, May 1, 1973, p70 Christian Science Monitor, v64, June 14, 1972, p11 Choice, v9, September 1972, p102 Commentary, v62, December 1972, p102 English Journal, v62, December, 1973, p1300 Kirkus Reviews, v40, February 1, 1972, p156 Library Journal: v97, April 15, 1972, p1461 v97, May 15, 1972, p1934 v97, Dec. 15, 1972, p4059 Life, v72, April 14, 1972, p20 National Observer, v11, May 20, 1972 p23 New Yorker, V48, May 27, 1972, p114 The New York Times, v121, April 16, 1972 p37 New York Times Book Review; April 16, 1972, p5 June 4, 1972, p24 December 3, 1972, p78 Publisher's Weekly, v201, Feb. 21, 1972 p111 Publisher's weekly, v203, March 5, 1972, p84 Saturday Review, v55, April 15, 1972, p65 School Arts, v82,January, 1983,p22 Times Literary Supplement, October 6, 1972, p1184 Top of the News, v29, April, 1973, p257 Wall St. Journal, v179, April 25, 1972, p28

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