Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another Prodigy Story

I followed up my reading of Chaim Potok's The Chosen with another of his novels. Entitled My Name is Asher Lev, it is considered by some to be Potok's best novel. It is another story of a young Hasidic Jewish boy, a born artist. Art is not something that is understood in his family or in his religious community, and Asher's pursuit of artistic expression results in a great deal of tension both internally and between the boy and his parents. His parents are in fact never able to fully decide whether Asher's artistic ability is a gift of God or if it is from the "other side."

Because I had familiarized myself with some of the Jewish words and phrases from The Chosen, this time I didn't keep a word list. Instead, I looked up all of the artists and art pieces mentioned by name. The sculptor who became Asher Lev's mentor insisted on his studying great art work in detail. This made for an interesting little side trip and broadened my understanding of how an artist develops his or her talent.

I always wonder how an author gets inside of the mind of a prodigy. As I think back and remember the books I have read in the past few years, I see there are quite a few that are prodigy stories. People with shining talents and gifts seem to hold a high level of fascination for readers. Here is a short list of prodigy stories that I remember off-the-cuff:

  • The Soloist ~which I reviewed here. The story of a cello player whose gift evaporated when he reached adulthood.
  • The Chosen~an intellectual prodigy, Danny Saunders, teaches himself German so that he may study Freud's work in its original language.
  • Heart and Soul~ by Frank Conroy is about a poor city boy who becomes a world-renowned pianist. Fascinating detailing of the mental discipline required for the feat.
  • The Song of the Lark~ by Willa Cather. Though I have loved Willa Cather's other works, especially My Antonia, I had a real love-hate relationship with this book. It is said to be semi-autobiographical. I love Cather's prose and descriptive writing, but could never find anything to like about the prairie girl who made it big in the opera. The more successful she became, the more elitist she grew to be.
  • Great Masters: Mozart~~ His Life and Music- This is an audio course by Professor Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, one of the Great Courses. Mozart is perhaps the most famous musical prodigy of all times. I appreciate Greenberg's assertion that too many people attribute Mozart's prolific composing to "giftedness" rather than to hard work. He makes the point that even though the gift was obvious, credit should be given to Mozart for the tremendous amount of personal blood, sweat and tears he invested in his work.

I think that having read all of these books, I am glad to be a common person possessing gifts only in ordinary measure. It seems that prodigies and those who are born with exceptional gifts have extreme struggles fitting into society, while at the same time they battle great inner tension and the drive to create.

What prodigy books can you add to my list?


Seasonal Soundings said...

Oooo, I'm adding this book to my list. After The Chosen, I'm now into its sequel The Promise, which you might want to read, too.

About prodigy stories, have you read Gifted Hands by Ben Carson? It is a wonderful autobiography that I believe every student should read before graduating from high school. Carson is the world-famous pediatric neurosurgeon. Wonderful book!

Poiema said...

My children have _Gifted Hands_ on their school list for next year. Maybe it would make a good family read aloud?