This story is about a Jewish boy from Brooklyn, who’s talent is painting. He introduces himself as a young man struggling with inner conflict between his religious upbringing and his extraordinary God-given gift that cannot be controlled and seems to possess a spirit all it own. He can not explain why he feels he must paint, and does not like the fact that he hurts everyone he loves, and insults everything he believes in, but continues on his path which seems to have been chosen for him.
All throughout the book we see the conflicts between Asher and his family, and grow a hatred towards his father, even though he is a good man and respected highly in the community. As a young boy Asher is told by his father who seems to think that his artistic ability is foolishness and that he needs to focus his attention on his school work. We tend to like his mother, Rivkeh, because, even though she says she doesn’t want Asher to paint, we know that deep down she knows art is where his heart is, and it is the only thing that makes him happy. We can relate with her as she stands by the window worrying and wondering when her loved ones will be home.
Asher does not get very much encouragement from other people until he meets the world famous Jacob Kahn, who becomes his inspiration, his teacher, and his link to the great work of art. The two meet at the Rebbe’s office. This meeting was not accidental. It was set up by the Rebbe, who Asher was not very fond of because he is sending his father to Vienna. The Rebbe understands Asher better than his parents do. He knows that Asher has this talent, and wants him to per sew it. When Asher’s dad goes away to Vienna, his mom stays back in Brooklyn with him in hopes that he will studyhard. He studies enough to get by, but still brings to life everything he sees.
Jacob Kohn teaches Asher how to become a great painter, cautioning him what he is getting into. As Asher becomes Asher Lev the painter, instead of the son of Reb Aryeh Lev, his father becomes curious and wants to go to one of his shows. Aryeh wants to see some of his work but refuses to go if there are nude paintings. Asher, not being able to control the fact that there are nude paintings at his shows, (because he is in training), keeps his father away. At Asher’s last show, he does not have any paintings of nudes, and when asked by his father if there are any nudes he says “no”, knowing that he will come and see the crucifixion. The Crucifixion portrays the suffering of his mother as she is torn between her husband and son, and the suffering of Asher who is torn between the love for his family, and the inner drive of his art. Asher knows that this will bring great despair to his father, seeing that his son used Christian symbolism to characterize the tension between him and his parents, and showing it off for the world to see.