Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk

I tend to be wary of historical fiction regarding the Holocaust. Even when I approach a book written by a well-respected author, I am wary. When it comes time to discuss the Holocaust with children, I prefer age appropriate nonfiction children's literature. However, novels based on real experiences, such as Jennifer Roy's extraordinary Yellow Star, are also valuable books in the Holocaust youth literature canon.

Sid Fleichman's The Entertainer and the Dybbuk is a tough one to describe. It centers around a World War II vet turned ventriloquist in post WWII Europe. Unfortunately, our hero is not a very good ventriloquist. To his amazement, his dummy becomes possessed by the spirit of a Jewish child murdered by the Nazis. Through the help of the dybbuk (a Jewish spirit), he is able to perform amazing tricks and stunts.

The dybbuk incorporates dark humor concerning the Holocaust into the routine; when this happens, the ventriloquist goes along with it, but eventually tries to steer it back to slapstick humor when the material gets too dark. Things take a darker turn when the dybbuk becomes obsessed with taking revenge on the Nazi who poisoned his sister and eventually killed him as well.

Although humor is sprinkled throughout the book, it is an uncomfortable and disquieting read. I would recommend this for upper elementary grades; the book specifically deals with the murder of children by the Nazis, and I feel that it would be better if readers came to the book with some maturity and knowledge of the Holocaust. If you're looking for an introductory book to the Holocaust, I would look elsewhere. Fleischman is an outstanding children's author, and this is an exceptional book.

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