Set in Czechoslovakia during World War II, The Golem’s Voice tells the story of a small boy fleeing from a Nazi roundup. This moving portrayal of faith and persecution draws heavily from the Jewish legend of the golem, a voiceless, animated construct given temporary life via a word of power.
During a roundup, a mother urges her sons Yakov and Yoakim to flee the railyards; there have been reports of death camps, and the boys are small enough to scurry beneath the train cars. During their flight, Yoakim, the older brother, shields Yakov from pursuing Nazi soldiers and is killed. Yakov finds temporary sanctuary in the abandoned home of a mystical Jewish practitioner, where he discovers a lifeless clay golem. Prompted by desperation and a still, small voice, Yakov attempts to animate the golem, which was originally created to protect the Jewish community. He is unsuccessful and must flee when the Nazis discover his hiding place. After an extended flight, Yakov manages to construct his own golem out of mud and prayer. Though the golem is a protector, Yakov must take responsibility for his own survival.
Though heavily inspired by mysticism, the historical narrative is supported throughout with voiceover text. This narration, for lack of a better word, serves as much-needed punctuation for the rest of the graphic novel’s primarily staccato dialogue. Presented for a middle grade audience, the language is aggressive without being explicitly violent; it adequately depicts the widespread panic, fear, and isolation of the time, while also presenting soldiers and refugees alike as capable of cruelty and anger. The plot is self-contained, focused mostly on Yakov’s flight and imminent survival; the main takeaway has little to do with specific historical events outside of the larger Holocaust framework.
As with many comics depicting the Shoah, there is no color in this graphic novel; the artwork is in grayscale, allowing the focus to remain on the tragedy, with boldly delineated panels and almost caricatured human faces. The shadows are heavy, and the backgrounds, forests, and architecture are a sharp, detailed contrast to the more rounded, childlike design of Yakov and his golem, or the abrupt depiction of the refugees and sinister soldiers they encounter. The art, while depicting movement and action, at times is posed and plodding rather than fluid. It doesn’t detract from Yakov’s urgent desire to survive; it’s an excellent method for showing grief and suffering, but this staged quality makes the middle of the story seem slow and disengaged. Fortunately, it picks up toward the end of the graphic novel, and these more choreographed frames depict some of the book’s most coherent and touching scenes.
The Golem’s Voice is a story set in dark places during a dark time. Klein crams emotion into every panel and, even if the mysticism of the golem lacks a resonant punch, it can still create an atmosphere that’s receptive to idea of faith as a salvage operation. The abstract nature of this survival story will appeal to readers who are too young or sensitive for projects like Maus or Miriam Katin’s autobiographical We Are On Our Own. More literary than historical, it may also appeal to readers of Isabel Greenberg’s Encyclopedia of Early Earth.
The Golem’s Voice
by David G. Klein
Now What Media, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12