cover image The Golem: A Version

The Golem: A Version

Barbara Rogasky. Holiday House, $18.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-0964-8

Working with the Jewish legend that also inspired David Wisniewski's new picture book (reviewed p. 83) and a novel-length retelling by Isaac Bashevis Singer (see p. 85), Rogasky (Smoke and Ashes: The Story of the Holocaust) goes beyond the story of the Golem's creation and mission in combating the anti-Semitism of 16th-century Prague to weave in folklore about his doings, both antic and tragic. While she is unflinching in her portraits of the degrading poverty and false accusations suffered by the Jews, Rogasky also mixes in a few broadly comic elements, as in a chapter in which the Golem goes to market and returns with an entire stall, vendor and all. Rabbi Loew, a model of eloquence in the Wisniewski version, here speaks with a folksy inflection: ""What's to be afraid?"" he says to his wife, who is startled at the sight of the Golem. For the most part, the tone is somber: ""The story here is one of blood and murder. Hatred is its root. In hatred there is evil, and in evil there is madness."" Caldecott Medalist Hyman (St. George and the Dragon) makes the monstrous Golem and the aged rabbi almost as romantic as fairy tale princesses. Her inky watercolors lend depth to a sprawling tale that vacillates somewhat unsuccessfully between horror and humor, but which admirably captures the strange slavishness of the Golem and the violent climate of a black age. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)