The Golems of Gotham
A golem is a mythical creature of Jewish history, an archetype, in its own way, of the modern superhero. It is a creature fashioned out of mud and ritual and prayer, a creature of delivery and rescue and occasionally of vengeance. It is this creature that a 14-year-old girl attempts to conjure in THE GOLEMS OF GOTHAM in an attempt to rescue her father.
Thane Rosenbaum introduces his characters in The GOLEMS OF GOTHAM in piecemeal fashion, a chapter at a time, utilizing the style of novel-in-styles used to great effect in his previous work, ELIJAH INVISIBLE. The reader is barely past the first page before a double suicide takes place. Lothar and Rose Levin, Holocaust survivors, kill themselves during temple services with nary a prior word nor indication of their intent. Rosenbaum then methodically assembles his additional cast of characters. There is Ariel, a 14-year-old girl who plays haunting, precise Klezmer without benefit of violin lessons, entertaining passersby on Broadway; Tanya Green, a music teacher who hears Ariel playing and takes her as a pupil, not to instruct her, but to learn from her; and Oliver, father of Ariel, son of Lothar and Rose. Oliver --- crushed by the incremental trauma of the sudden death of his parents while he was in college, the sudden departure of his wife some 12 years earlier, and his own success as a mystery novelist --- is troubled by a writer's block, but that is only a symptom of his larger problem. He is blocked from life.
Ariel, seeing her father slipping away from her, and from himself, by degrees, attempts to summon a golem to rescue her father. Her conjuring, though well-intended, lacks the excellence of execution. What she instead summons are the shades of her grandparents, Lothar and Rose, and six other Holocaust survivors --- all of them, interestingly enough, writers --- who, like the Levins, could no longer deal with the horror of what they had witnessed, experienced, and survived in the camps. These are names we know, writers whose work provided a window to the world of what they had seen, writers such as Primo Levi and Jerzy Kosinski. As the ghosts --- the erstwhile golems --- travel throughout New York City, manifesting themselves in ways both subtle and obvious, simple and mysterious, they demonstrate how the events of the past cast a shadow over the present, even as the past is gradually forgotten or, at best, dimly remembered. Although there is little that they can do for themselves, they can do something for Oliver and for his daughter, the young, would-be Jewish sorceress who, through error both cursed and blessed, brought them back to this side.
THE GOLEMS OF GOTHAM is by turns a fable, ghost story, and history lesson. Rosenbaum occasionally strays off of his narrative to editorialize, and not always to the benefit of his tale. Given the ultimate power of his writing, however, this is a minor quibble. Rosenbaum, overall, is reminiscent of Vonnegut at his best, dispensing narrative nuggets at will and providing haunting passages to be studied again and again. THE GOLEMS OF GOTHAM is a feast to be taken slowly and carefully, and savored.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011
The Golems of Gotham
- Publication Date: February 1, 2002
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins
- ISBN-10: 0060184906
- ISBN-13: 9780060184902