Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Fleischman, Sid. The Entertainer and the Dybbuk--4 stars out of 4!
Books like The Diary of Anne Frank and Marcus Zuzak’s The Book Thief (2006) paint a poignant but chilling portrait of the Nazi movement and the horrors inflicted by it. This appropriately solemn tradition of documenting atrocities so history does not forget them makes Sid Fleischman’s new morality tale, The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, even more important. Well into his eighties, with an illustrious and prolific career behind him, Mr. Fleischman has tackled his most difficult project with masterful grace and style. Like Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s allegorical The Little Prince, this short novel packs a punch for young and old alike.
It is Europe in 1948, and Nebraskan Freddie T. Birch, aka The Great Freddie, is in trouble. He has nowhere to go and business is bad. Freddie is a ventriloquist who moves his lips, and his career is going nowhere, but he has nowhere to go: “Once the war was over, he’d stayed in Europe. He had no one to welcome him back home in Custer County, Nebraska. One-eighth Cherokee Indian, he had grown up an orphan” (12). Freddie’s life changes radically when he is possessed by a dybbuk, in this case a 12-year-old Jewish spirit named Avrom Amos Poliakov, who has some unfinished business on Earth four years after his murder by the Nazi SS “Jewkid” hunter Colonel Gerhard Junker-Strupp. The boy, never lacking in chutzpah, had saved Freddie during the war, and now he wants Freddie to return the favor: “‘Last week in Vienna, I saw a flyer with a picture of you and your dummy. I recognized the dummy. I decided you were the one to help me’” (24). The dybbuk helps Freddie’s career climb out of the gutter after Freddie realizes that the spirit can talk out of Freddie’s nose while he drinks water or tapes his mouth shut, but the price is often unsettling. Avrom Amos needs to have his Bar Mitzvah so he can become a man and exact his revenge on the monster who massacred thousands of the 1.5 million Jewish children exterminated during the Nazi regime. Freddie reluctantly agrees to the Bar Mitzvah despite rumors around town that he might be secretly Jewish; in fact, when his girlfriend Polly confronts him, he stops denying he is Jewish and cryptically admits, “‘Okay. You got me . . . I’m one of the chosen people’” (121). Avrom and Freddie must work together, however uncomfortably, to save Avrom from the purgatory in which he has been living since his murder in 1944, and revenge must be exacted on the SS colonel that robbed Avrom of his future.
Mr. Fleischman accomplishes the nearly impossible with this deceptively simple book: he gives readers a humorous holocaust story. Mr. Fleischman intimately understands the need to remember the horrific events of Nazi Germany, but as he states in his author’s note, the dichotomy of terror and hope is omnipresent when examining this painful period in history: “It has taken me a long lifetime of novel writing to finally feel prepared to grapple with the Holocaust. But what tale to tell? There was a horror story in every victim. At the same time, the indomitable Jewish sense of humor somehow survived” (178-179). The tale he tells is masterful and important; The Entertainer and the Dybbuk is a groundbreaking novel. Although several Yiddish references may be confusing to younger readers or readers unfamiliar with Jewish traditions, this historical fantasy/allegory belongs in every library and every Holocaust education program.


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