The Golem & the Nazi by Anna Cates
Red Moon Press (2020)
118 pages, $15 Paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Haibun is an interesting form. From 17th-century Japan, the term was first used by haiku poet Basho to describe a hybrid writing style of terse prose accompanied by haiku. In her book The Golem & the Nazi, Anna Cates uses a Western version of this form to weave a very dark and fantastic spell for her readers.
In the opening eponymous section, Cates explores the myth of the Jewish golem; however, she takes the centuries-old legend and places it in the midst of WWII and its aftermath, using symbols of rebirth and regeneration throughout the section to create a haunting tale of both mythic and all too human horror.
In the next section, “Here There Be Dragons,” Cates starts with dragon myths in various cultures, but from there leaps to other areas of discussion. It’s a wide-ranging section and, to make it more interesting, Cates breaks away from the traditional haibun form of prose sections and haiku by juxtaposing her haiku against pieces that read like free-verse poetry. The energy in these pieces really serves to amp up the reader and propels them forward through the text.
In the third section, Cates returns to Jewish history and imagery, and really explores the myths of the Middle East. However, her haibun often drift into other spiritual practices, which allows Cates to delve into some rich mythological imagery and ask the deep questions of spirituality and religion. While this isn’t as horror-focused as the previous two sections, there are moments of ennui and existentialism that build off those sections. Furthermore, the pieces themselves are quite focused and poignant, so readers should enjoy them even without the basic horror tropes of the earlier sections.
The last section, “Between the Lines,” is an eclectic collection of various haibun. I don’t see anything connecting them, but they’re all well written. Some of them touch on earlier themes in the collection, but some are stand alone pieces. Overall, they work quite well together, and make for a unique end to an interesting collection.
The Golem & the Nazi by Anna Cates is a really strong collection of English language haibun, both traditional and experimental. A lot of these pieces will appeal to horror readers, especially those in the first two sections, and readers of speculative and spiritually themed literature will enjoy the collection as well.