________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 14 . . . . December 4, 2009


Clay Man: The Golem of Prague.

Irene N. Watts, reteller. Illustrated by Kathryn E. Shoemaker.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2009.
84 pp., hardcover, $21.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-880-4.

Subject Heading:
Golem-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4 and up / Ages 9 and up.

Review by Reesa Cohen.

*** /4


Father says that Prague is the most beautiful city in the world. We live in the small part of the city, in the ghetto, which is also called the Jewish Town. We are surrounded by walls. Five hundred Jews live here, inside the walled town. We must wear a yellow circle on our clothes to show who we are.

Merchants, tradesmen, and those who come to the market square from other quarters of Prague to buy and sell and look for bargains can wear whatever they like.


From the first page, author Irene Watts effectively establishes the feeling of confinement that one must experience in a ghetto. Jacob is the son of the chief Rabbi Judah, a man sought out by others for his wisdom and learned ways. Many of his followers expect Jacob to continue in his father's footsteps, but Jacob has many questions and is torn between honouring his father's wishes and his desire to find out more about the world "outside." He yearns to leave the ghetto to view the wonders of Prague as extolled by those who have ventured outside the walls. But this is not possible because those living in the ghetto are not allowed to leave.

     As the holiday of Passover approaches, those inside the walls find it a stressful time to be Jewish and feel threatened by those who live outside. "They attack what they do not understand."

internal art

     One night, both Jacob and his father have the same dream of creating a Golem. A week later, in the middle of the night, Jacob secretly follows his father and two companions out of the ghetto. Before his unbelieving eyes, Jacob witnesses the creation of a clay man, the Golem! The Golem comes to life as Joseph and is endowed with "special gifts" whose purpose is to keep the people of the Ghetto safe from their enemies. Joseph proves his worth in many ways and is vigilant in his duties of protecting the people. But readers will learn that there is a dark side to the miracle of Joseph and will discover that the secret shared between Joseph and his father brings them closer.

     Written in simple prose, this interesting retelling of a famous Jewish folk story is quite intriguing. There are a number of versions of his legend. Watts takes a story that is based on Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the 16th century chief Rabbi of Prague, who reportedly created a Golem to defend the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks, and Watts composes it from the point of view of the rabbi's son. There are even snippets of humour, as evidenced by the statement, "When one has a rabbi for a father, everything is a lesson."

     The Golem has a long tradition in Jewish legends, and Rabbi Judah Loew is the name most strongly associated with this story. In Jewish folklore, a Golem is an animated being created entirely from inanimate, raw material. But while this creature is animated, the golem possesses no spiritual qualities, because, quite simply, it does not have a human soul.

     Having a golem servant was seen as the ultimate symbol of wisdom and holiness, and there are many tales of golems connected to prominent rabbis throughout the Middle Ages.

     The shaded black and white pencil drawings evoke an eeriness that suits the sombre story line, as well as creating a sense of place and time of the 1590's.


Reesa Cohen is a retired Instructor of Children's Literature and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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