Golem Song

Marc Estrin
  • Review
By – April 2, 2012

Jew­ish lore tells us that in the 16th cen­tu­ry, Rab­bi Judah Loew, known as the Mahar­al of Prague, cre­at­ed a golem, an inan­i­mate being that was brought to life by use of the name of God. The golem, by virtue of his huge size and prodi­gious strength, pro­tect­ed the Jews of Prague from the vio­lence of the ram­pant anti-Semi­tism of the time. 

In our cen­tu­ry, golem lit­er­a­ture has become a sub-genre of Jew­ish fic­tion. Authors have often insert­ed golem fig­ures into nov­els because the image is so pow­er­ful and evoca­tive. An invin­ci­ble guardian pro­tect­ing the under­dog from an inhos­pitable soci­ety res­onates well with mod­ern times. Even some of the super­heroes of com­ic book and movie fame have been based on golem leg­end and lore. 

Marc Estrin’s Golem Song is one such nov­el but this one has a twist. No out­side force cre­ates this golem. Estrin’s pro­tag­o­nist, Alan Krieger, makes his golem out of noth­ing more than his very own self. Alan, a reg­is­tered nurse who sees him­self as a heal­er to all the world, is a pas­sion­ate Jew, a con­firmed big­ot and a char­ac­ter as wild­ly orig­i­nal as they come. It is his self-appoint­ed mis­sion to res­cue the Jews of New York from his per­ceived men­ace, the black inhab­i­tants of the city. Alan is larg­er than life, fig­u­ra­tive­ly and lit­er­al­ly. A huge man with huge appetites, he is bril­liant, cre­ative and mul­ti-tal­ent­ed. He may be the most wide­ly read fic­tion­al char­ac­ter ever to jump from pen to page. His stream-of-con­scious­ness mus­ing is filled with facts, inter­est­ing and obscure, and the cadence of his rant­i­ng is almost musi­cal. His per­son­al­i­ty is so force­ful that those around him can only tol­er­ate his pres­ence for a peri­od of time before his obses­sive para­noia inter­feres with his rela­tion­ships and caus­es each friend or fam­i­ly mem­ber to aban­don him for a calmer Alan­less exis­tence. Final­ly, Alan is alone, his mis­sion to save New York’s Jews loom­ing. The res­o­lu­tion of the sto­ry and this trag­ic golem fig­ure will stay with the read­er long after the final page has been turned.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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