The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman is not your typical Holocaust story. A short novel, I read it over the course of a school day, whenever I had a few spare moments.
The Great Freddie is an American GI who has stayed on in Europe after the war. He moves from town to town with his act as a ventriloquist, albeit not a very good one. In a hotel one night he finds a dybbuk–the spirit of a Jewish child–in his closet. The dybbuk claims to be Avrom Amos Poliakov, a boy killed when Nazi SS men hunted down Jewish children of all ages to try and exterminate them all. Avrom wants to possess Freddie, and in exchange for some services Freddie can do for him, Avrom will help Freddie’s very bad ventriloquist act. Freddie protests but doesn’t seem to have a choice. The dybbuk possesses him, skyrocketing him to fame with his now-amazing ventriloquist act. Soon Freddie’s act is pulling in the crowds, night after night across Europe, but Avrom is begins using the publicity to try and find his killer. He speaks through the dummy, calling out for the SS officer who shot him and killed his sister in front of him. The story is full of laughs (Freddie and the dybbuk are constantly arguing, with Freddie usually losing) and will keep readers on the edge of their seat. Does Avrom avenge his death? Is revenge the answer he seeks?
In the afterword Fleischman explains that he struggled with writing a Holocaust novel for years. He has written over 60 books in his lifetime, and The Entertainer and the Dybbuk is his only Holocaust story. Fleischman explains he wanted to properly honor the millions of children who were executed at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust. He has gone above and beyond with this novel.
The dybbuk’s story was one I was not familiar with before reading this. Once I began reading I couldn’t put the book down. Fleischman weaves an intricate web of tragedy, humor, love, spirituality, and remembrance. It’s a beautiful story and one I would recommend to children, teens, and adults alike.
I’m not sure if this would be a middle grade or young adult novel, but this is very high on my list of must-read novels. I may use it as a read-aloud during our Holocaust unit next month.