The Gift of Asher Lev - Plot Summary

Plot Summary

The brilliant, schismatic Hasidic painter Asher Lev is now a middle-aged man, residing with his wife and children in the south of France. When his beloved Uncle Yitzchok dies, Asher is abruptly summoned back to Brooklyn. Soon after the funeral, he learns that his uncle had secretly been collecting art for many years and has amassed a valuable collection, of which Asher is to be the trustee. Asher is dazzled and makes some tentative efforts to reconcile the Ladover Hasidic community to modern art—for example, by sketching a portrait of his uncle for his grieving father and by teaching a lesson in art appreciation at the school where his daughter has temporarily enrolled. But one of his cousins bitterly resents the art collection and hampers Asher's efforts to use it for charity in his uncle's name.

Meanwhile, Asher's parents and the rest of the Ladover community worry because the aging Ladover rebbe has no children and has appointed no successor. What will happen to the Ladover community if the rebbe dies before the Messiah comes? The logical candidate for next rebbe would be Asher's father, Aryeh Lev, who has been one of the rebbe's chief lieutenants for decades, but Asher realizes that the rebbe is reluctant to pass the mantle of authority to Aryeh unless Aryeh has a successor—who cannot be Aryeh's only child, the iconoclast painter. Slowly, Asher realizes that the rebbe and Aryeh both hope that Asher's five-year-old son, Avrumel, will become the ultimate successor to the rebbeship. It is Avrumel who will be "the gift of Asher Lev."

Another strand of the plot concerns Asher's wife, Devorah, who is plagued by bitter memories of her parents' deaths in the Holocaust and of her own early childhood, spent in hiding with her cousin Max and his parents. Asher suspects Devorah will seize on her son's eventual succession to rebbeship as some sort of vindication for her family's suffering.

In the end, Asher acquiesces in the unspoken plan of succession and decides to save his uncle's art collection until Avrumel grows up, in confidence that Avrumel will know what to do with it.

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