Snow in August by Pete Hamill
Our story opens in 1947 Brooklyn. Michael Devlin, an 11 year-old, gets up one snowy morning to hurry out to the Catholic church where he serves as an altar boy. The day will change his life forever.
As he struggles through the icy, windy streets, he lets his fertile imagination have free rein with his surroundings: superheroes! World War Two! Arctic wastelands! Suddenly, an anxious voice calls for help. A man waves to him from the alien terrain of the neighborhood synagogue. Jeez, could he possibly be that most exotic creature a Catholic kid could possibly encounter: an honest-to-God rabbi, fresh off the boat from Europe?
Rabbi Judah Hirsch conveys in broken English that he needs Michael to come over and turn the lights on for him because he can't do it himself for some mysterious religious reason. Michael has heard ominous Catholic rumors concerning the Jews, but his curiosity wins out. Besides, the rabbi, who attempts to explain about the Shabbos and its rules, seems like a nice guy. He even gives Michael a nickel for his trouble though he can't afford it.
Michael misses his father (killed at the Battle of the Bulge), and gets little attention from his hard-working mother. How can he resist making friends with the rabbi whose thirst for knowledge matches his own? Soon he returns to the synagogue to ask if the rabbi needs any more help. He wants stories and male companionship. The rabbi wants to learn English and the rules of baseball to help get assimilated into his new homeland. As a bonus, he throws in lessons in Yiddish, which Michael eagerly accepts.
But trouble lurks. A gang of young thugs prowls the neighborhood. Their leader Frankie beats up the Jewish proprietor of a candy store, putting the old man in a coma. Michael and his friends have the bad luck to witness this. As spring and summer stretch onwards, they fear that Frankie will come after them. Meanwhile, the friendship of Michael and Rabbi Hirsch flourishes along with their obsession with Jackie Robinson who joins the Brooklyn Dodgers. But when Frankie and his gang become too big a threat, no one will help and Michael must re-animate the Golem of Prague to protect them.
Snow in August is hard to classify. Its earnest naiveté, young hero, and time-worn message of tolerance put it in children's book territory. However, it has frequent profanity and occasional graphic violence. But it's not complex enough to be a Pulitzer-Prize winning historical novel for adults.
My main problem centers on Frankie and his gang. No one in the neighborhood is supposed to "squeal" to the cops about their crimes: an informer is lower than dirt. I guess I can believe this mind-set, especially when Michael's mom puts an Irish-against-the-English spin on it.
However, that still leaves a psychopathic 17 year-old like Frankie terrorizing the neighborhood. Would the men of the neighborhood, who just finished kicking the crap out of the Wehrmacht, really tolerate him? Frankie puts a kid in the hospital for weeks and almost rapes his mother, and nobody cares? I'm surprised that Frankie doesn't quickly end up dead in the East River, especially since no one in the neighborhood cooperates with the cops. Subsequently, the conflict built up around him seems contrived.
What's to like about Snow in August? You will enjoy the lively friendship between the immensely appealing Michael and Rabbi Hirsch. Why did I read Snow in August? I heard it dealt with golems, and yes, it does. Rabbi Hirsch tells Michael all about the famous Golem of Prague who comes across as a tragic figure reminiscent of Frankenstein's monster. Finally Michael reanimates the Golem to protect them from Frankie. If you like golems as much as we do here at Snortyville, you're in for a treat. Snow in August is available on Amazon.com through this link: