My Name is Asher Lev: Art for truth’s sake

As the title suggests, My Name is Asher Lev is related by Asher Lev, born in Brooklyn in 1943 to parents whose marriage united two prominent Hasidic families.

front dust-jacket of My Name is Asher Lev shows the artist at work.
What is Asher Lev thinking as he eyes a blank canvas?

Asher is a very sensitive child, but he cannot communicate his feelings except through art. His earliest playmates “are Eberhard and Crayola.”

Asher’s mother, an emotionally fragile woman, likes him to draw pretty birds and flowers.

Asher’s father, principled and highly disciplined, thinks art is at best a waste of time; at worst, it’s a violation of the Law.

Mr. Lev travels as a missionary/community organizer, setting up schools in Jewish communities in communist countries.

When Asher enters yeshiva, his mother enters college to study Russian so she can work with her husband in stead of waiting for him to return.

The Rebbe, a faceless figure at the periphery of Asher’s life, arranges for him to study art with the world’s most prominent Jewish artist.

Asher grows distant from his family even as he grows mature enough to understand why they view life as they do.

Chaim Potok’s characters are complicated, sometimes puzzling to themselves as well as to those around them.

In Asher Lev, as in The Chosen and The Promise, Potok writes straightforward prose that mutes profound meaning: I burst into tears after reading the novel’s last line.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Alfred A. Knopf, © 1972, 373 p.
1972 bestseller #9. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

To-morrow Morning examines time and opportunity

When Kate Starr leaves art school to marry handsome Joseph Green, she plans to go on with her painting.

Though they are poor, Joe with his financial ability and social skills is destined for great things.


To-morrow Morning by Anne Parish
Harper & Brothers, 1927. 305 pp. 1927 bestseller #8. My grade:B+.

female art student sketching, about 1900
Student in turn of the century art class.

Before long Joe is handling investments for his wealthy Aunt Sarah.

Kate would like to paint, but there’s never time in her married life.

Within five years, Joe is dead.

Kind creditors tell Kate that Joe paid his bills before his death, and Aunt Sarah kindly refrains from mentioning her reduced finances are due to Joe’s get-rich-quick investments.

Just as Kate’s life had revolved around Joe, now it revolves around their son, Jodie.

Like his mother, Jodie has an artistic bent; like her, he’s not disciplined enough to pursue it.

Anne Parrish builds the plot the way an impressionist builds a portrait. Her characters are well-defined by a tiny bits of information slipped into the story in seemingly off-hand ways, by indirection and innuendo. If readers’ attention lags, they can miss some fact vital to the plot.

Mother and son each become aware of the other’s strengths and weaknesses, but they never share their insights.

Kate and Jodie never realize today is yesterday’s tomorrow.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The inevitable doesn’t happen in Sparkenbroke

Charles Morgan’s Sparkenbroke is about art and the artist’s relationship to the world.

The plot is only of marginal interest.


Sparkenbroke by Charles Morgan

MacMillan, 1936. 553 p. 1936 bestseller #3. My grade: B.


The novel is set in an English country town at the edge of the Sparkenbroke estate. Lord Sparkenbroke, a renowned poet and novelist, flits back from Italy occasionally, spending most of his time writing in a cottage on the estate.

Sparkenbroke’s wealthy wife runs the estate which she is restoring to profitability for their children to inherit.

Mary Leward comes to Chelmouth to visit her former teacher, Helen Hardy.

When Mary’s father practically disowns her for breaking her engagement to a wealthy man, Helen’s brother, George Hardy, steps in with a proposal of marriage.

Mary meets Lord Sparkenbroke, whom she knows through his poetry.

Mary thinks she can be Sparkenbroke’s muse and George’s wife, too.

Morgan explores Sparkenbroke’s vision of death as the ultimate transcendent experience. All most readers will see, however, is a picture of a working writer.

The seemingly inevitable affair is never consummated.

All the characters love, or at least are fond of, the others.

And Sparkenbroke’s one true love his is writing.

In the end, the solid, reliable George appears as the book’s hero.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Eyes of the World Is More Sermon than Story

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In The Eyes of the World, Harold Bell Wright delivers a fire and brimstone denunciation of American culture on the eve of World War I.

Aaron King, a young painter whose dying mother sacrificed to finance his education and repay money his father embezzled, promises to be a success for her sake.

In hopes of lucrative commissions, Aaron goes West to a playground of American’s cultural elite. There he meets Conrad Lagrange. From her letters, Aaron knows his mother once had high respect for Lagrange’s writing.

At the time Aaron meets him, Lagrange has no respect for himself: He writes for money.

The plot and characters of Eyes will be familiar to every novel reader.  With Lagrange’s help, Aaron learns what true artistic success is. He meets good folk free untainted by city life. And, of course, he finds true love, as reward for his virtue.

Wright’s use of setting as a metaphor for morality will ring a bell with anyone who has read Zane Grey or Gene Stratton-Porter.

The only element that makes Eyes interesting is Wright’s harangue against artists who measure success in dollar bills.

That one who, for a price, presents a picture or a story without regard for the influence of his production upon the characters of those who receive it, commits a crime for which human law provides no adequate punishment.

Wright is so passionate in his denunciation that readers may wonder if perhaps Wright, the ex-clergyman, were preaching to himself.

The Eyes of the World
By Harold Bell Wright
Illustrations from oil paintings by F. Graham Cootes
Project Gutenberg EBook #11715
1914 bestseller #1
My grade: C+