This week’s books skew to the literary, which mostly reminds me that’s a genre I usually can’t get into.
For instance I read Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic some years back and found myself unimpressed. I wasn’t any more enthused about THE WORLD THAT WE KNEW in which Hanna, a Jewish mother in WW II Berlin, decides to send her daughter Lea to France for safety. She prevails on Ettie, a kabbalist’s daughter to create Ava, a golem who will bodyguard Lea from potential danger. We then follow Ettie, Lea and Ava through the war as they fall in love, fight against fascism and try to make sense of what it all means.
THE BOOK OF SPLENDOR by Frances Sherwood is a historical novel so the golem plays a smaller role (that worked great for me as I could speed through large chunks of the book). Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II is out to become immortal, calling everyone from the great astronomers to John Dee to his court; when he learns Judah ben Loew has created a golem, he figures the Maharal can also provide him with immortality. Can ben Loew and his golem Yossel save the Prague ghetto from the PO’d emperor? The heart of the story though is the relationship between Yossel and Rochel, an orphan married to an older man.
Gustav Meyrink’s THE GOLEM is another style of literary, a kind of fever dream in which the protagonist becomes/imagines himself as a resident of the ghetto years earlier, dealing with assorted Jews and lowlifes and wondering about the golem, who serves as a kind of Jewish avatar/portent/bogeyman. As this is the kind of surreal strangeness in which none of the events may have happened and the golem never really appears, I think I can skip it for including in my article.
The pick of the week was THE GOLEM’S EYE: The Bartimaeus Trilogy Book II by Jonathan Stroud, which I read some years back. This is set in an alternate timeline where mages — powered by binding demons rather than any innate sorcery of their own — rule mortals in a fashion Voldemort would approve of (though with more of a velvet fist over the iron glove). The protagonists are Nathaniel, a rising young magician in the cutthroat world of the mageocratic British government; Bartimaeus, the cunning, sardonic jinni bound to his service; and Kitty, a young rebel dedicated to overthrowing the government.
In this particular installment, the trio are working on their own goals, all of which are disrupted when a mysterious Something starts making terrorist attacks. Magic doesn’t stop it; the security ministry in Nathaniel works is useless; and the resistance is getting the blame. Everyone investigates and, of course, it turns out to be a golem. But it’s not even the worst threat they’re going to face … As good as I remember from reading the trilogy some 25 years ago.
#SFWApro. Cover by Ernie Chan, all rights to image remain with current holder.
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