Dyb­buk: A Version

Bar­bara Rogasky; Leonard Everett Fish­er, illus.
  • Review
By – August 3, 2012
Pas­sion­ate is the best word to describe Rogasky’s telling and Fisher’s illus­trat­ing of this clas­sic Jew­ish tale of pos­ses­sion. It is based on S. Y. Ansky’s famous play, The Dyb­buk: Between Two Worlds and is the sto­ry of two young lovers who are unit­ed super­nat­u­ral­ly, when the tor­ment­ed spir­it of the reject­ed suit­or, Konin, enters the body of his beloved, Leah, whose father, Reb Sender, would not allow them to be mar­ried. In his rejec­tion of Konin, Reb Sender breaks a vow that he made years ago to his then good friend, Konin’s father: that if one of them had a son and the oth­er a daugh­ter, the two chil­dren would be mar­ried. Hav­ing for­got­ten his friend and his vow, Reb Sender seeks wealth for Leah and not a poor, orphaned schol­ar like Konin. When he real­izes this, Konin turns from prayer and study to Kab­bal­ah, and from Kab­bal­ah to the dark pow­ers, which even­tu­al­ly kill him. Leah breaks with cus­tom and vis­its the ceme­tery on the day she is to be mar­ried, invit­ing Konin’s wan­der­ing spir­it to come to her wed­ding. All of these trans­gres­sions — against God, against faith, against tra­di­tion — and their con­se­quences play out in a Hasidic com­mu­ni­ty that, despite rab­bini­cal inter­ven­tion, a ghost­ly tri­al, and an exor­cism, can­not pre­vent the spir­its of Konin and Leah from merg­ing as one in death. The dia­logue between Konin and Leah is mem­o­rable in its inten­si­ty and the nar­ra­tive style, which direct­ly address­es the read­er at crit­i­cal, often tran­si­tion­al moments, is mes­mer­iz­ing. As sus­pense builds, the full page or dou­ble page illus­tra­tions pow­er­ful­ly cap­ture action, char­ac­ter and set­ting. Rogasky’s writ­ing and Fisher’s art are made for one anoth­er; in all of their books, a few for the author and many for the artist, there is an ele­men­tal qual­i­ty that finds full expres­sion in this tale. Chil­dren in the upper ele­men­tary grades, espe­cial­ly if The Dyb­buk is read to them episod­i­cal­ly, will be thrilled by the ghost sto­ry they are hear­ing; old­er read­ers will find the sto­ry provoca­tive and per­plex­ing, ful­fill­ing the narrator’s intro­duc­to­ry words: Exact­ly what that les­son is, I’m not sure about myself.” Like oth­er lit­er­a­ture that probes human emo­tions and actions at their most ele­men­tal lev­el, this ver­sion of The Dyb­buk will linger in the hearts and minds of its read­ers. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for ages 11 and up.
Lin­da R. Sil­ver is a spe­cial­ist in Jew­ish children’s lit­er­a­ture. She is edi­tor of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries’ Jew­ish Val­ues­find­er, www​.ajl​jew​ish​val​ues​.org, and author of Best Jew­ish Books for Chil­dren and Teens: A JPS Guide (The Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion Soci­ety, 2010) and The Jew­ish Val­ues Find­er: A Guide to Val­ues in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture (Neal-Schu­man, 2008).

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