The Golem of Brook­lyn: A Novel

  • Review
By – October 6, 2023

The golem is a recur­ring fig­ure in Jew­ish folk­lore, brought into exis­tence by rab­bis or prophets to pro­tect per­se­cut­ed Jews. In The Golem of Brook­lyn, how­ev­er, it is not a rab­bi or a prophet who brings the golem back into exis­tence after its recent eighty-or-so-year slum­ber; it’s Len Bron­stein, an art teacher at a pri­vate school in Brook­lyn. When the golem arrives, there is no appar­ent threat against which to pro­tect the Jews — and so it’s up to Len and those who join him along the way to keep the golem from caus­ing destruc­tion in its seem­ing­ly unstop­pable effort to find and elim­i­nate threats to the Jew­ish people.

The Golem of Brook­lyn is a hilar­i­ous romp, sim­i­lar to Harold and Kumar Go to White Cas­tle in its silli­ness, unpre­dictabil­i­ty, and use of juve­nile humor. But this doesn’t mean that the book shies away from heavy, com­plex themes. In search of anti­semitism for the golem to stamp out, Len teams up with Miri, a woman who was oust­ed from her ultra-Ortho­dox Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty for being a les­bian. Togeth­er, they con­front the loom­ing threat of anti­semitism and Neo-Nazism in both online and in-per­son spaces. For some­one like Len, who has lived a pri­mar­i­ly sec­u­lar life, the threat is vague and not eas­i­ly acces­si­ble; but for Miri, it is much more imme­di­ate. They find them­selves at an ide­o­log­i­cal cross­roads: is it right for the golem to kill anti­semites, as it has been in the past — say, dur­ing the Holo­caust — or is it wrong, because the threat is not as appar­ent as it was then?

While the nov­el is inter­est­ed in the present moment, it also takes his­to­ry to task. There are mul­ti­ple five-to-ten-page pas­sages through­out the book that detail the his­to­ry of the golem and of Jew­ish per­se­cu­tion — which, in a book as small as this, is a siz­able amount. These pas­sages read almost as if they’re from a text­book, yet they’re fil­tered through the charm­ing, irrev­er­ent-adja­cent voice of the nar­ra­tor, giv­ing some life to sec­tions that might oth­er­wise be dry. 

In addi­tion to the his­tor­i­cal pas­sages, there are mul­ti­ple changes in point of view through­out the book that, although inter­est­ing, some­times seem to clash with the novel’s for­ward momen­tum. Ear­ly on, a chap­ter is told from the per­spec­tive of a bode­ga cat, and lat­er, there are two chap­ters nar­rat­ed by an anti­se­mit­ic police offi­cer who is putting togeth­er a white suprema­cist ral­ly. Both are engag­ing per­spec­tives, and they do lay down the foun­da­tion for what’s to come, but they shift the focus away from where the ener­gy of the plot appears to be located.

For those who want a seri­ous reimag­in­ing of how a golem might exist in twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca, The Golem of Brook­lyn might not be the best choice; how­ev­er, for the rest of us, it is a fun, fast-paced nov­el with loads of wit, humor, and insight.

Ben­jamin Selesnick lives and writes in New Jer­sey. His writ­ing has appeared in decomP, Lunch Tick­et, San­ta Fe Writ­ers’ Project Quar­ter­ly, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. He holds an MFA in fic­tion from Rutgers-Newark.

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