Avrom Amos likes to crack jokes. He loves the spotlight. And if he wants something, he knows how to get it. He's just like any other boy, except for one thing: He's a ghost—a dybbuk. During World War Two he'd been murdered by the Nazis, right after he saved the life of a young ventriloquist named Freddie.
Freddie doesn't know it yet, but he's about to return the favor. Because the dybbuk wants revenge, and he knows exactly how to get it.
As a children's book author Sid Fleischman felt a special obligation to his readers. "The books we enjoy as children stay with us forever -- they have a special impact. Paragraph after paragraph and page after page, the author must deliver his or her best work." With almost 60 books to his credit, some of which have been made into motion pictures, Sid Fleischman can be assured that his work will make a special impact.
Sid Fleischman wrote his books at a huge table cluttered with projects: story ideas, library books, research, letters, notes, pens, pencils, and a computer. He lived in an old-fashioned, two-story house full of creaks and character, and enjoys hearing the sound of the nearby Pacific Ocean.
Fleischman passed away after a battle with cancer on March 17, 2010, the day after his ninetieth birthday.
He was the father of Newbery Medal winning writer and poet Paul Fleischman, author of Joyful Noise; they are the only father and son to receive Newbery awards.
"Nazis! No one wants to think about the war anymore. It's over." "Not for me it's over," said the dybbuk. "I have unfinished business."
The Great Freddie, a so-so ventriloquist, is struggling with his act, when he finds himself possessed by a dybbuk who is the ghost of a twelve-year-old boy. The kid may have been the victim of Nazis, but the he managed to keep his sense of humor even after death, and his jokes are way funnier than Freddie's. Soon the show is a hit, but the dybbuk has a secret agenda . . . he's on the lookout for his own murderer.
I had some problems getting into this one. Fleischman tells his story using very few descriptive paragraphs; instead the reader gets page after page of rapid-fire dialogue. It was somewhat disconcerting, and I almost gave up on the tale a few times. I'm glad I didn't though, as there's a great ending that made me want to simultaneously laugh, cry, and stand up and cheer. Yep, a scant eight pages at the end of the book bumped this tale up to five stars, and made it a story I'll never forget.
This book is odd. Very odd. It may be the oddest dealing-with-the-Holocaust book I have ever read. It was enjoyable. I liked Avrom's humour, and I liked that there was humour in the book at all. I liked Polly's enjoyment when she introduced her KKK uncle to her supposedly Jewish fiance. But I'm not sure how a child would react to this book. I'm not sure how I reacted to this book. It's just so odd.
Like so many things in life the story contains mystery, beauty, enchantment and horror. Dybbuk is Hebrew for "cleaving to" -- and remains one of the most enduring beliefs in Jewish folklore. This is the basis for Sid Fleischman's new book which reveals age appropriate information about the harsh cruelty inflicted upon the Jews during the Holocaust in a highly entertaining and unique way.
When twelve year old Avrom Amos, a dybbuk takes up residence in the body of an American ventriloquist what ensues is an eye opening, educational journey presented through a victim's eyes... well, actually the voice is the conduit throughout the novel that allows the dybbuk to expose at least one Nazi SS commander, find justice for his murdered sister and himself, while at the same time bolstering the performance of The Great Freddie to new and unbelievable heights.
Filled with compassion and thought provoking facts delivered by a sassy dybbuk that has more than one or two ghostly tricks planned makes "The Entertainer and the Dybbuk" a delightful read for all ages. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and would recommend it highly and without hesitation!
Happy Reading! RJ McGill 3Rs-Real Reader Reviews
**There's a lot to be learned from this book - although the target audience is middle grade, I must admit that I found it to be quite entertaining and the presentation of the horrific cruelty inflicted upon the Jewish children was conveyed in such a way that I sat totally riveted and glued to the pages! I hope parents the world over will take the time to share this book with their kids. A wonderful way to start discussions about the Holocaust, WW II, etc...
Very unusual idea. I didn't like this book nearly as much as I thought I would. It was way too far-fetched. I did like the ending though. The ending may have saved it for me. Still, I wouldn't recommend it to my students, and it was them I had in mind when I began reading it. For that, it was a disappointment.
I had a hard time getting into The Entertainer and the Dybbuk because I don’t like ventriloquists and their dummies. I have always found something creepy about them. But I pushed past my dislike and I am so glad I did.
The Entertainer and the Dybbuk begins in 1948 in Vienna, Austria amid the ruins of World War II. Freddie the Great is an ex-American serviceman who has decided to remain in Europe and is working as a third rate entertainer in third rate dives. His problem is that he isn’t a very good ventriloquist – his lips move. One night, he opens a closet door in his seedy hotel room and there, sitting on the floor, is a child with a faint glow about him. It is, in fact, the ghost of Avrom Amos Poliakov, a 12 year old boy killed by the Nazis. He explains to Freddie that he is a dybbuk, which is, according to Jewish folklore, the spirit of a dead person who takes possession of a living person in order to fulfill an earthy purpose. And Avrom has a very important earthly mission and Freddie owes him a favor - Avrom had saved his life during the war.
Little by little Avrom makes his presence known in Freddie’s act speaking as though he were the dummy and pretty soon Freddie has achieved some measure of success. Freddie no longer moves his lips, and can even drink a bottle of Perrier while the dummy speaks. The audience loves it. At first, Avrom is willing to go along with Freddie’s usual routine, but he soon begins to throw in facts from his life under the Nazis. And the audience continues to love the act. Freddie finally achieves real stardom in Paris, but now Avrom decides he can’t work on the Sabbath or Shabbes, so Friday and Saturday afternoon performances are cancelled. Yet they remain a success, so much so that when a reporter interviews Freddie, intrigued by his claim that his dummy is a dybbuk, Avrom willingly tells her his story.
Avrom and his younger sister Sulka had managed to elude the Nazis in Ukrainian for two years, but on August 22, 1944 the Nazis rounded up all the Jewish children for deportation. Avrom and Sulka escaped, but were hunted down by the SS. First they killed Sulka, and after a chase, Avrom was shot 6 times by SS Colonel Gerhard Junker-Strupp. The interviewer is amused, but doesn’t believe the story.
Avrom next tells Freddie that he had been killed two weeks before his Bar Mitzvah and he wants Freddie to find a Rabbi to complete it. Freddie figures that once he is Bar Mitzvahed he would be gone, but discovers that the dybbuk’s real purpose is to exact vengeance on Junker-Strupp now that Avrom is a man under Jewish law. And Avrom was not going to be stopped. It had taken him two years to track the Nazi down, and he had discovered the Junker-Strupp was in hiding as a Jewish Holocaust survivor, complete with a tattooed number on his arm. Given the zeal with which Avrom hunted his killer, the ending of this novel is not to be missed. And it is better than you might expect.
The Entertainer and the Dybbuk is a short but powerful book. It was Fleischman’s intention to honor the 1.5 million children killed during the Holocaust with this novel because “History is easy to forget. Does it matter in our contemporary lives if we toss aside what happened so long ago? If we forget – poof – history vanishes. The Holocaust vanishes. If we don’t know where we have been, how wise will we be in the future?” (pg 179) Avrom’s story is delivered in pure Shtick or what Fleischman calls “the tough Jewish sense of humor” in his Author’s Note at of the book. (pg 179) Don’t be fool by that. Even though there is much satirical humor and it looks like an easy book, Avrom’s story is heartbreakingly sad. He is a character that has stayed with me since I finished reading the book in much that same way he stayed with Freddie – hauntingly so. But this is an excellent novel and I would highly recommend it.
This book won the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award for older readers.
This book is recommended for readers aged 11-14. This book was purchased for my personal library.
World War II is over and Freddie, a young ex-soldier, is trying to make his living as a ventriloquist. The only problem is that he isn't that good at throwing his voice without moving his lips. This situation is quickly solved when he suddenly finds himself possessed by a Dybbuk, a young jewish ghost named Avrom Amos who was killed by an SS officer during the war. Avrom wants revenge on those who killed him. He also wants people to remember the terrible fate that came to the millions of jewish children just like him. And who better to use than a man who stands up on stage in front of crowd with a dummy to speak for him?
At first, I wasn't too sure of this book mainly because the book cover threw me off a little. It looked a little too young and with only 180 pages, I wasn't too sure if the story could be told that would give this topic justice. However, I was completely wrong. This book does a very good job of keeping your interest into seeing how Avrom will get his revenge while at the same time giving accurate and chilling facts about the crimes committed. The author's note at the end just helps clarify a few facts and is a great touch to the story. There wasn't a lot of drag and it was a quick read. I still wouldn't say this was my favorite world war II novel but I am sure that students who are looking for a very good historical fiction novel will love this book. (on a side note, at my school, the holocaust is presented in 8th grade and I always have several students asking for these types of books to read. This books fits wonderfully into the curriculum and must be added to our collection.)
It’s unusual for me to find Holocaust fiction that feels right. For me, this book feels right.
First of all, there is a dybbuk. There is no question that this book is fiction. There is no way to contort this book into history, or have it displace oral history.
Because it is set after WWII ended, and has as its main character the ghost of a murdered child, it also begins with an ending. And it’s not happy. No matter what happens, there is no truly happy ending to this story. The murdered child will stay murdered, along with his sister and entire family. I’m never comfortable with fictional Holocaust stories that have falsely happy endings or histories that are manipulated into happy endings. There can be hope. But not happiness. This book has neither, and it works.
As a middle grade book for discussion, there is a lot of material here.
I see some reviews concerned about the content for children under 8th grade. Some of my 4th grade students have read Hunger Games. Many have read Harry Potter. Some play very violent video games. They’ve seen images of school shootings. They’ve heard about migrant children washing up on the shore and May have seen those pictures, too. My Black and Brown students know they are in danger of being shot by the police.
One of the ways Jewish people have lived on after the horrors of the Shoah is by telling stories. Much like other persecuted and oppressed people. Not only does this book tell a story, it also offers story telling and sharing as a way to process experiences and keep living.
Which thing did the dybbuk have to do? The thing at the end? Or the thing throughout?
Throughout this book, the dybbuk told his story. And we heard it. And now it’s our responsibility to carry it.
Some 4th graders are ready for this book. And 5th and 6th graders could read it in a book group or as a class.
Format: Audio CD Age level: Middle school Protagonist: Fred T. Burch, and American, and Avram Amos, a Jewish Dybbuk
Review: This story revolves around two very different characters, Freddie and Avram. Freddie is a former American G.I. and a so-so ventriloquist. He has stayed in Europe following the war, trying to work as an entertainer. Avram Amos is a dybbuk, which is a Jewish spirit. He comes to Freddie because he needs help completing "unfinished business." Avram ends up "possessing" Freddie, which results in an amazing ventriloquist act. Meanwhile, Avram is still set on his ultimate goals of finding the SS soldier who murdered him.
I thought this story had potential, but it kind of fell flat. The majority of the story seemed to focus on Freddie's ventriloquist act rather than Avram's search for justice. There was also a love interest introduced, Freddie's former girlfriend. This line of the story was, in my opinion, completely pointless and took away from the main plot.
Another downfall for this book could have been the recorded version. It's possible I would have enjoyed it more, had I read it on my own. One aspect of the book on tape I liked was that each character was voiced by a different person. Unfortunately, Freddie was very bland throughout the entire reading, and Avram was very snotty. Even when he was remembering sad, tragic moments from his life, it was done with a smart-alec attitude. The other part that threw me off was that although Avram Amos was a European Jewish boy, most likely from Germany, he spoke with a New York accent.
Overall, I was a little disappointed. The possession aspect of the story was a little too strange for me, and I didn't think the performers did a very good job for the audio version. However, it is an interesting perspective on the war, and the reader will definitely want to know if Avram ultimately finds justice.
I first picked up this book because it had a ventriloquist dummy on the cover. I was not sure what a dybbuk was but learned that it was the equivalent of a Jewish Ghost. This is the story of a ventriloquist who is not very successful. That is until he returns to his room one night and finds someone waiting. He finds out the someone is a dybbuk. He wants something from the Ventriloquist. He needs to inhabit his body in exchange he will help him. Against the entertainer's wishes the dybbuk enters his body and soon begins to speak for the dummy. They become a hit. The dybbuk needs the help of the entertainer to track down someone from his past. It seems the dybbuk, when alive was a young boy named Avrom Amos Poliakov. When is was alive he and his sister Sulka were hiding from the SS officers who took great pleasure in hunting down Jewish children, bagging them and then killing them. Avrom watched helplessly as his sister was poisoned and died. Avrom was eventually shot by the same officer. As a dybbuk he has unfinished business. Find the SS officer who now lives as a Jewish victim and get revenge.
I loved this book. The mystery of why the dybbuk was possessing the entertainer and for how long kept me reading. As I neared the end I was on the edge of my seat to see what the dybbuk would do. I was very pleased with the way the book ended. About the time I think I have heard all of the things the Nazis did to the Jews I learn something new. This was based on historical fact. The author did a wonderful job of telling it like it was and in a most respectful way. He let the dybbuk and his humor tell the story. I can't wait to recommend this now that I truly understand what this book is all about
I'm trying to muddle my way through all of the Georgia Children's Book Award nominees to read with my Reading Bowl Team. I've only read 4 out of the 18 books, whereas some of my students have read all of the books (fast, little readers they are!). We don't read them in any certain order - just as long as they get read. I'm certainly glad I chose this one to read next because I realize now that my students have no idea what they were reading about. We've been discussing each book, but the reading bowl works like a quiz bowl, or like jeopardy. So, we don't spend countless hours analyzing books - I basically quiz them on the books (on the content) - with questions that they themselves have written. However, now that I've read this book, we'll definitely be spending more time on their analytical skills with this one.
This is a book about the Holocaust and the Jewish children that were murdered. Sid Fleischman, the author, does a good job writing the story in a way that appeals to children and allows them to *somewhat* comprehend what they are reading. And when I say 'appeals,' I mean that the story keeps them interested. However, the students on my reading bowl team are in 4th and 5th grade. At this point in the school year, they haven't covered World War II yet in their curriculum. So, to have them read this book without more guidance was careless of me. Of course they vaguely know about the Holocaust, but they don't know much. And they don't quite understand what they are reading. It's a decent book for adults, and a fantastic book for children once they comprehend what happened during WWII (hence, why I gave it an extra star).
I understand the need to tell the stories of the holocaust. It is a personal need, it is a community need, it is a historical need. it is something that shouldn't be forgotten -- just how horrible a people can be.
But does this need translate to quality work? Not always.
I was uncomfortable with this book as a book for children. Having said that, I know that I am supposed to be uncomfortable ... it's an uncomfortable situation, and the murdering of children by such nefarious means should never get comfortable. And yet...I'm torn.
In the balance to always try to protect my children and yet make them aware of history (including atrocious history) I have to draw some lines. To me, this book crosses some of those lines. It is forthright in descriptions. It is a book full of vengeance and revenge. And I'm not sure I approve of the ending. Not because of what the dybbuk does, but because I don't think he could tolerate it.
***WARNING SPOILER ALERT FOLLOWS***
Yes, I can understand that by having the dybbuk inhabit the Nazi responsible for killing him would be a terrible burden for the Nazi to live with the rest of his life, after hearing the dybbuk complain on how uncomfortable it was to inhabit the ventriloquists body, I can't imagine what it would be like for a Jewish soul to live in a Nazi's body. Wouldn't the torture be two-sided?
Just not a recommended book from me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Best Books for Young Adults--Controversial topic: violence and revenge
This is a story about a very untalented ventriloquist who is living over in Europe after WWII. He becomes possessed by a dybbuk who was killed by Nazi soldiers along with his sister. The dybbuk begins to speak through The Great Freddie. Although Freddie is reluctant to this plan he goes along with it to continue working and he begins to have sympathy for the dybbuk and the tragedy that happened towards him and the other Jewish children. The Great Freddie and Avrom Amos (the dybbuk) make their way to the US to confront the Nazi General who ordered these killings. In the end Avrom possesses the soldier and the truth is finally revealed.
I think this book would appeal to students because it is about WWII and the Holocaust and that is how I would promote it. The book is also a quick read and will address the concept of persecution, hate crimes and revenge.
I think the characters are believable, but I don't know how the readers will feel about the concept of a spirit possessing a human being. Hopefully they will be able to look past that and just learn from the story of the dybbuk.
Full Cast Audio does a nice job of providing voices for this humorous yet serious story of a post WWIII ex-GI turned ventriloquist. Freddie T. Birch is a ventriloquist without an act-- until he is possessed by a dybbuk, a Jewish ghost, with an agenda of his own. Even if you don’t listen to this as an audio book, the clever story will entertain and inform readers from ages 10 and up. The author, Sid Fleischman, uses humor to tell the painful story of a 12-year-old Jewish boy, Avrom Amos, who was shot six times by a German SS officer. Avrom has returned to earth to seek revenge for his and his sister’s cold-blooded murders. He inhabits the body of the mediocre ventriloquist in order to find his antagonist and in the process, saves Freddie from showbiz failure. Despite Freddie’s initial hostility and disdain towards his new Jewish “friend,” the ventriloquist grows in empathy for the orphaned boy and comes to love and depend upon him. Clearly fantasy, home school families will have a lot of historical and religious material to chew on in this short, yet memorable, novel. (Harper Collins, 2007)
The story is set just after the end of World War II. Freddie is an American soldier who has remained in Europe after the war. He is a ventriloquist that performs in different clubs. Freddie is not particularly talented and audiences complain that they can see his lips move. After returning home from one of the clubs, Freddie finds the ghost of a young boy in his closet, or a dybbuk (which is a Jewish ghost or spirit).
The ghost is a twelve-year-old boy that was killed by the Nazis during the war in their attempt to eliminate the Jews. The boy's name was Avrom Amos Poliakov. The reader learns that a dybbuk is a victim of the Holocaust with unfinished tasks. The ghost must complete them before relaxing in an afterlife.
Avrom is determined in the completion of his unfinished tasks. He asks Freddie if he can inhabit Freddie’s body during his shows. Freddie is uncertain about this proposition, as he fears he may need to do something in return for the ghost. He quickly learns that he does not have a choice.
This little book is a very quick read, and seemed like a good Twilight Zone episode. The story takes place in 1948, and the central character is an ex-GI who stayed in Europe, hoping to become an entertainer there. He had been a performing ventriloquist before the war, but his original dummy had been destroyed, and he was out of practice. As a result, he was barely making a living as “The Great Freddie” with a second-rate act. Then, one day, he encountered a dybbuk, the spirit of a Jewish child who had been killed by the Nazis, and both his act and his life changed dramatically. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the dybbuk has remained on Earth to somehow avenge his own death…but he can’t touch anyone or anything, only speak. With the exception of one annoying uncorrected typo [a reference to a B-52 bomber instead of what was probably a B-25], Fleischman puts the reader into the world of postwar Europe, still healing from the wounds of war.
Sid Fleischman's story involves an ex-GI who stays on in post-war Europe trying to make it as a ventriloquist and a murdered Jewish boy named Avrom Amos Poliakov. Freddie, the ventriloquist, isn't making it with a lame act, bad jokes, and little ability to throw his voice until Avrom Amos inhabits his body and speaks through his dummy. The act gets better, the jokes get better, but Freddie's life gets terribly complicated by this dead Jewish boy, now a "dybbuk" or spirit, who wants a Bar Mitzvah (a coming-of-age service for 13-year-old Jewish boys). Nevertheless, the good-hearted American goes along with the dybbuk's request, including attending Hebrew school. That is, until he falls in love and wants some time alone (without his body-possessing dybbuk). But Avrom Amos has other ideas. He's interested in chasing the Nazi, now in hiding in America, who murdered him and his sister. Fleischman manages this dark comedy with great tact and feeling. It's an unforgettable short tale.
Set three years after World War 2 ended, The Entertainer and the Dybbuk tells the story of an American veteran turned mediocre ventriloquist as he plays for audiences in Vienna, Austria. One night after a performance, he is greeted by a young boy who is revealed to be a dybbuk, the spirit of a holocaust victim. "Think of me as a Jewish Imp," the boy says. "I need to possess someone's body for a while, rent free." So begins a relationship that makes a better entertainer of the American Vet and gives a vehicle to the dybbuk - one with which he can complete his mission, which the entertainer and the reader must wait to discover.
This is a unique novel that is compelling, entertaining and moving. Appropriate for intermediate grades through high school, the relationship between the two main characters is believable even in its fantastical creation, and the story weaves the post-war experience with the holocaust experience in a very human, and dybbuk, way.
It reads like a children's book, but no. Too many "assumed-understood" Holocaust references for today's kids.
I expected total creepiness, but no. Only minor creepiness. Most of the book is just about how Freddie the Great gets used to being possessed by the ghost of Avrom, a murdered Jewish boy, and how he becomes a famous ventriloquist and gets a girlfriend. That sounds less interesting than it is.
I think I wanted the dybbuk to be... I don't know, meaner, I guess. The premise sounded so eerie that I expected the dybbuk (a word I still cannot pronounce in a satisfactory way) to be more vicious. Avrom says he's bent on revenge, and while he does get it, it doesn't come about the way I expected.
This is a good book, and a quick read. I'm just still trying to figure out the intended audience. Maybe you can read it and let me know....
This is a quick read about a weighty topic. The book is physically smaller than many others, and there are relatively few words on a page compared to most other young adult novels. The author uses a dybbuk (or Jewish ghost) of a boy who was killed by a Nazi officer during World War II to talk about the Holocaust. This ghost befriends a struggling ventriloquist, enters his body, and helps the entertainer put on some great shows. But the dybbuk has a purpose and a plan ... I won't give more away, as there's a good twist at the end of the book. The book is pretty straight forward, without much depth (you couldn't get much in such a short book). But it you're looking for a fiction book about the Holocaust, and don't generally like thick books, this one might be for you. Recommended for teens in middle school and up.
This is a new twist on a World War II story. Freddie the Great is a former American GI who hangs around Europe with his ventriloquist act, which isn't so great. He meets and becomes some what of a friend to a dybbuk - the spirit of a murdered Jewish child. In life, the child helped Freddie the soldier and he promised to do what he could to repay him. Well, he was killed, but his spirit sill wants Freddie to make good on his promise. He helps Freddie with his act, while looking for the Nazi colonel who murdered him. Very quick read - I was done in less than 2 hours. Still, it was quite entertaining.
1. A WWII soldier is doing his gig as a ventriloquist in the year of 1948. (BTW he carried his dummy around Europe in battle. WHAT?)
2. He is approached by a dybbuk, the spirit of a dead 12 year old jewish boy. The boy asks if he can possess the ventriloquist to finish some unfinished business. The ventriloquist says no but the dybbuk does anyway.
3. The dybbuk takes over the ventriloquist's act to find the man who killed him and other Jewish kids during the war.
I actually might have been to forgive all of this if the book was well-written. It definitely was not. This is a sorry atempt to tell a holocaust story.
In the sizable body of teen Holocaust fiction, this book stands out as one of the only attempts to be funny about it. In post-WWII Europe, an American ventriloquist with limited talent is visited by a dybbuk, the ghost of a Jewish boy killed in the Holocaust. Despite the man's protests, the dybbuk possesses him and his dummy, much improving the show and furthering the dybbuk's plan to exact revenge on the Nazi who killed him. A bizarre premise that mostly worked for me, thanks to Fleischman's expert dialogue, but I'm guessing it's not for everyone.
The Great Freddie isn’t; he’s a second string (or lower) American ventriloquist in 1948 touring Europe. When Avrom possesses his dummy, his act gets much better, and he gets some big bookings. Avrom was murdered when he was 12, so with Freddie’s help he becomes Bar Mitzvah. Then they find the Nazi who killed Avrom...
Ten to twelve year olds may be able to read this book, but older teenagers and adults who know more about the Holocaust may be a better audience.
Just after World War II, an American ventriloquist named Freddie is possessed by a dybbuk - a Jewish spirit. Turns out it's the spirit of a young boy who was murdered during the Holocaust, but only after he saved Freddie's life. Now, he needs Freddie's help to find and avenge his murderer. The story has humor and pathos, and despite it's short length it's is a powerful tale of gratitude, human connections, prejudice, revenge and the horrors of war. I found it very engrossing.
A dybbuk, a spirit, enters the body of Freddie, who is a vantriloquist. The dybbuk, Avrom Amos, brings the story of his death and the other Jewish children during the Holocaust to life through Freddie's shows. Freddie becomes extremely popular, and many people learn about the Holocaust, which leads Avrom to his murderer.
A ventriloquist comes back from his show one night to find a ghost in his closet: a skinny, tall, raggedy ghost of a Jewish boy, murdered by the Nazis. Jewish ghosts, or spirits, are called dybbuks, and this dybbuk isn’t finished with life yet. He wants to find his killer and torment him. But when you’re a ghost, and you don’t know where your killer is, how do you torment the guy? This dybbuk has a plan: he’ll possess this ventriloquist, a guy he helped during life, until he finds the killer—and then he’ll torment him. This is the story of a ventriloquist possessed by a Jewish boy who’s been killed by the Nazis, trying to locate a war criminal who’s hiding from the world.
(REVIEW: This looks like a kiddy book in size and font, but it’s filled with anger. Sid Fleischman includes a lot of detail about how the Nazis killed children—poison, guns, plucking them out of their mother’s arms and tossing them into sacks like a bunch of stray cats, herding them onto rail cars to go to their deaths in gas chambers. Yes, it’s all true, but you wouldn’t guess the contents from the cover. Using the dybbuk’s point of view, Fleischman blames the Nazis and other Germans who wanted to get rid of their Jewish neighbors. Fleischman’s afterward reveals his motive: to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. He also says that as a child he was told he’d killed Christ, a frequent experience of Jewish children; he remarks that Germans of later generations don’t live with the same guilt about the Holocaust. “. . . Guilt is non transferable.” Forgiveness is the next logical step; I’m not sure he’s willing to go that far. Darkly humorous ending and dark humor throughout—a ghost possesses a guy till he finds the guy he’s looking for, then jumps from the first guy to the second, leaving the first to marry his sweetheart and making the second tell his secrets in court—but a very heavy, serious topic for a children’s book. Reading level is low, but reader needs to know about Holocaust to get full impact of the story.)
Fleischman makes his intentions of this novel clear with a handful of words in his dedication: for the million and a half…
The Entertainer and the Dybbuk is a unique piece of holocaust literature in that the narrative recalls a point of view often lost or ignored in history of this era, that of the millions of Jewish children who were victims of the Nazi genocide campaign against Jews across Europe. The fate and suffering of children are often overlooked during times of war, and during World War II (1929-1945) it is believed that upwards of 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered (WFJCSH np). This book has been awarded the Sydney Taylor Book Awards, in the category for Older Readers. This award is given the Association of Jewish Libraries to recognize the best in Jewish children's literature that is able to most effectively communicate what it means to be Jewish or to live the Jewish experience.
Fleischman tells the story of a Freddie T. Birch, a “second-rate ventriloquist” from Nebraska who is now traveling around Europe in hopes of becoming a famous comedian after surviving a plane crash as a fighter pilot during WWII. After a late night show in Austria, Freddie encounters the ghost of Avrom Amos, a boy of about 12 or 13 years old who was murdered by a Nazi general. Now returned to earth as a “dybbuk”, Avrom pleads with Freddie to allow him to “borrow his body” to seek revenge so that he can pass over peacefully. Annoyed, Freddie seems to think he’s nothing but an aberration, but when he won’t take no for an answer, Avrom possesses Freddie’s dummy in order to draw large crowds so that he can find his murderer, SS Colonel Gerhard Junker-Strupp.
Pronounced “dih-buck”, a dybbuk is a figure “in Jewish folklore”, representing “an evil spirit which enters into a living person, cleaves to his soul, causes mental illness, talks through his mouth, and represents a separate and alien personality” (Scholem np). This is similar to the other famous character of Jewish tales, the Golem. However, Avrom is far from being what is recognized as traditionally “evil”. Self identified as a member of the underground resistance who blew up German freight trains, the young orphan lived to support his little sister, Sulka, who was eventually caught and killed by “German soldiers on motorcycles” (79). Avrom Amos’ mission to find and bring justice to his killer is an allusion to the Nuremburg War Crimes trials that were happening all over Europe and the United States after WWII. Such trials began as early as 1943, and are named after the German city of Nuremburg in which the International Military Tribunal was setup. Unfortunately, “only about 20% of the 150,000 Nazi war criminals were ever put on trial” (Grobman np).
The cover art for the first edition of this book is very interesting. The ventriloquist’s dummy – likely to be already “possessed” by Avrom – is playing up to his violent Jewish history. The yellow arm band identifying him as Jewish is noticeably center, parallel to the eerie smoking black hole, assumed to be the mark of his murderer’s gunshot, dripping blood onto his snow white jacket. The reader assumes that behind Avrom is Freddie, but his position off to the side, in the shadows with head turned away from Avrom suggests that he is ignoring the dummy. This image is symbolic of the bystander, or one who chooses not to speak up and defend the victim.
This idea of the bystander represents anti-Semitic or racist beliefs against the Jews, which was common before and during WWII, even in America where the majority of Jews sought to escape for protection. Even Freddie seems to be unable to escape these types of thoughts. Though early on, Freddie claims that he “had volunteered to do his part” (6) against the “lunatic” (6) Hitler, when Avrom’s spirit follows him from city-to-city, a defeated Freddie states, “…I don’t want to be possessed by a Jewish dybbuk. When I was growing up, I never saw a Jew. I thought they all wore horns and had tails”(24). These beliefs are repeated in the character of Polly, Freddie’s girlfriend from Alabama, who is excited to show off what she thinks is her Jewish fiancé to her family, especially her uncle Wimble, “the family Klansman” (129).
Overall, the story is fast-paced and walks the fine balance between seriousness and humor. Avrom Amos is witty, sympathetic, and an ultimately heroic character. His unique position on the edge of becoming a teenager, but being a ghost, symbolizes the unique problems that all teenagers go through: trying to grow up, wanting to be taken seriously, but being confused because sometimes it is hard to be understood. There are also a lot of similarities between Freddie and Avrom; both are orphans and members of minority groups (Freddie is part Native American), who struggle with feelings of racism and oppression. Though the story’s plot seems to be rushed at moments, and some of the Yiddish slang Avrom uses is challenging, Fleischman’s novel is a great starting place to begin reading about the darker events of World War II and Jewish history.
Fleischman, Sid. The Entertainer and the Dybbuk. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.
Grobman, Gary M. “The Aftermath.” The Holocaust – a Guide for Teachers. Remember.org: A Cybrary of the Holocaust. 1990. 9 April 2008. .
Scholem, Gershom. "Dibbuk (Dybbuk)." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 5. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 643-644. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. UNIV OF KENTUCKY. 28 April 2008 .
“Who We Are.” World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust. 28 April 2008. .
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I loved this book. My only reservation was the ending. I wanted the dybbuk to go one step further and move beyond revenge. Not because I wanted to tie things up nicely and paper over pain. But because I loved the dybbuk and I wanted him to find peace. He deserved it. As it is, the book leaves him as haunted as his former oppressor. So I was sad for him. However, as a picture of what could happen to a person who committed evil acts, it's a good sequence of events. I loved the dark, late 40's post-Holocaust, Joel Gray in Cabaret type feel and tone of the book; the sparseness of background and landscape, and the vehicle of performace/ventriloquism. I think it's a wonderful book. I didn't see it as a children's book. I enjoyed it as an elder.