I've been casting my mind back to the reasons I embarked on some holocaust reading last year and it all began with this book, My Name is Asher Lev by
Rabbi and author Chaim Potok.
It was craftyperson who urged me in Chaim's direction.In fact we were in a bookshop in Bath a few years ago and crafty asked, "do you have anything by Chaim Potok?"They thought we'd asked for Harry Potter, though as I recall crafty's pronounciation was spot on. Perhaps just not a regular request and to their credit they agreed we'd indentified a gap on the shelves.
First things first, I had never heard of Chaim Potok but research revealed he was born in the Bronx in 1929, eldest son of Jewish immigrants from Poland.His upbringing was Orthodox, not quite Hasidic and he studied the Talmud. By this stage I was already lost in the mire of woeful ignorance. Hasidic? Talmud? I realised that I knew precious little about the Jewish faith and people and my interest was piqued.
As always the means to rectify came through both fiction and non-fiction.
Firstly I read this beautifully written,measured, gentle and philosophical novel and had to know more. Arguably aspects of My Name is Asher Lev are autobiographical. Asher, an only child of orthodox, Hasidic parents discovers a forbidden talent for art bringing him into immediate conflict with his faith.Potok, discovering likewise in his own life, chose to focus on his writing. Asher becomes a world famous artist and there are unforgettable moments of deep poignancy in this book as he and his parents struggle to come to terms with one of his more controversial paintings.
One Chaim Potok is never enough so how fortunate that you can then read a sequel, The Gift of Asher Lev and then The Chosen and The Promise to assuage what rapidly became for me a reading addiction.
Chaim Potok set me on a trail, a rich seam of reading that led in all sorts of directions but ultimately to reading around a subject I'd sub-consciously avoided for years.