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The Golem
Isaac Bashevis Singer; illustrations by Uri Shulevitz
A Sunburst Book, Farrar Straus Giroux, 85 pages

The Golem
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. His fantasy novels include The King of the Fields. Artist Uri Shulevitz is a Caldecott Medalist, and illustrated Singer's early book for Young Readers, The Fools of Chelm and Their History.

Book Stacks: Books by Isaac B. Singer
The Nobel Prize Internet Archive: I. B. Singer
Reference Books about I. B. Singer

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

This story was first published in Yiddish in 1969, and was translated into English by the author in 1982 under the title The Golem. In 1996 this Sunburst edition appeared on the scene and recently a copy found its way to the offices of the SF Site, to become the most requested book of the month by our staff of reviewers.

A golem, if you've never heard the term, is a magical creature out of Jewish mythology. He's made of clay, and imbued with life through Cabbalistic magic and/or divine intervention to assist the Jewish people in a time of need.

This version of the golem myth is presented as a children's story, although it doesn't pull punches. It's more like one of the original blood-and-guts versions of the popular fairy tales. The persecution of the Jews is told bluntly, and the absurdity of the false accusations and sham trials is made obvious to all. But persecution is only one of the many themes here.

Rabbi Leib, who participates in the creation of the golem which saves the day for the Jews, finds himself in deeper and deeper trouble. When he attempts to use the golem for a less than noble cause, as he was specifically warned not to do, he loses control of the creature. The golem is now anxious to become more human, and indeed resembles an overgrown child in his behaviour. But since he has the strength of Samson, just stay out of his way when a temper tantrum hits.

And as if all this isn't enough, a serving girl in the house of Rabbi Leib falls in love with the golem. You want more? OK, now the golem is drafted into the Emperor's army! And just when it seems the story is doomed to end unhappily, it does. But not at all unsatisfactorily.

All the best children's literature is the stuff that adults won't tire of easily. The Golem is no exception. Read it for yourself first and decide if it's suitable bed-time reading for the little ones, or if it would just involve too many parenthetical explanations on your part. In any case, you won't be sorry you read it.

Copyright © 1997 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.


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