Clay Man: The Golem of Prague

Irene N. Watts, reteller; Kathryn E. Shoe­mak­er, illus

  • Review
By – August 30, 2011

The leg­end of Joseph the golem, the giant formed from earth and mys­ti­cal­ly ani­mat­ed by Rab­bi Judah Loew to pro­tect the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in Prague at the end of the six­teenth cen­tu­ry, blends his­to­ry, reli­gion, and fan­ta­sy in a tale that has res­onat­ed with pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion. Watts now gen­tly retells this sto­ry from the per­spec­tive of the rabbi’s fic­tion­al young son, who grows fond of Joseph as the golem patrols the Jew­ish ghet­to. Over three years the clay giant moves with mys­te­ri­ous knowl­edge. He thwarts a plant­ed baker’s appren­tice who would poi­son mat­zohs, unmasks a shrill liar in the mar­ket­place, and stops a man from hid­ing the dead body of a Chris­t­ian child inside the ghet­to to pro­voke cries of Blood Libel. Joseph’s oth­er­ness is also revealed on two humor­ous occa­sions when less-vital tasks assigned by oth­ers, not by Rab­bi Lowe, go Sorcerer’s Appren­tice wrong. Watts does not reveal what caus­es the golem to sud­den­ly ram­page with anger that forces the rab­bi to put him to sleep. The four­teen chap­ters each open with a soft, full-page pen­cil illus­tra­tion that, along with occa­sion­al small­er sketch­es, evoke the char­ac­ter of the mute, awk­ward giant, wind­ing ghet­to streets, and the affec­tion between the rab­bi and his son. Watts offers a lyri­cal, short nov­el for chil­dren that both makes the golem seem pos­si­ble and mutes the drama. 

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er and a school librar­i­an for forty years in NYC, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

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