Clay Man: The Golem of Prague (2009), by Irene N. Watts, illustrated by Kathryn Shoemaker

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults. It appears in volume 15.3.

Clay Man: The Golem of Prague

Clay Man: The Golem of Prague brings to life the traditional tale of Passover during the persecution of the Jews of Prague during the late 1500s.  At Easter, the Christian population would accuse the Jews (at this time celebrating their Passover) of the “Blood Lie,” that the Jews used the blood of a Christian child in the preparation of their Passover matzos.  Young Jacob, the narrator, watches in secret as his father the Chief Rabbi creates “Josef,” the golem, out of clay.  The Rabbi tells his people that “Josef was sent the ghetto to protect our community – to keep us safe from our enemies” (34).  For three years, he does so.  The stories Jacob relates are both of how the people misunderstand both Josef’s role and his nature, in a way that both Jacob and the reader comprehend, and of the ways in which Josef saves the Jewish community from the dishonest attempts of the Christians to discredit and even murder them.  It is because of human error that Josef must be decommissioned, as it were: the Rabbi forgets to give him his Sabbath instructions, and Josef becomes overly agitated, scaring even those who know him.  When the Rabbi puts Josef to “sleep,” he tells Jacob: “One day, when the Jewish people have great need of him, the golem may be called upon again” (75).  The power of belief has raised the golem; the power of belief makes his memory live strongly within the Jewish tradition.  Watts has presented the story in an engaging yet simple way, the horrors of persecution and the joy of protection as seen through the eyes of a young, typically energetic, Jewish boy.  The story is augmented by Shoemaker’s beautiful charcoal sketches, the medium suiting perfectly the ancient and somewhat eerie mood of the tale.

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