One night, the Great Freddie, a so-so American ventriloquist scraping out a living in post-war Europe, is possessed by a dybbuk — “A spirit. With tsuris.” At first, Freddie, who isn’t even Jewish, wants to get rid of the dybbuk. But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that both of them can help each other. Avram Amos, the dybbuk, was a 12-year-old boy killed in the Holocaust. He wants revenge against the Nazi who killed him and his sister, along with numerous other children. When Avram possesses the body of the Great Freddie, Freddie realizes how he can use that to his advantage and becomes famous as the most gifted ventriloquist in Europe. The dybbuk, now in the form of a ventriloquist’s dummy, makes the reader cheer and laugh. He also makes the reader squirm. At the height of Freddie’s rise to fame, Avram’s motivation is clear. He will use the stage to hunt down his own murderer.
But the novel is not dour. Despite its serious setting and momentum, Freddie and the dybbuk fight and joke like brothers. Fleischman uses humor to break up the tension stemming from the dybbuk’s serious mission. Freddie wants fame, and the dybbuk can help him get it. He wants love, and the dybbuk interferes. Both characters are complex and real. Avram’s bar mitzvah, with Freddie as his stand in, is remarkably touching.
The surprising ending is daring and memorable. This short book gives us satisfying revenge without violence. Fleischman’s courageous take on the Holocaust is full of concrete details that invoke heart and humor. Recommended for rea‘ders age 9 – 14.