Saturday, April 23, 2011

Puppet by Eva Wiseman

Eva Wiseman’s young adult novel, Puppet tackles the subject of blood libel which is the false belief that certain religions use the blood of children in their religious practices. In particular, the Jewish people have been singled out as partaking in this practice, using the blood of Christian children to make matzos, a type of bread, for their Passover and have suffered persecution as a result.

There have been many blood libels throughout history. Puppet tells the story of the blood libel of Tisza-Eszlar in Hungary in 1882-83. The story is told in the voice of Julie Vamosi, a simple girl who lived in the village of Tisza-Eszlar. Julie lives with her dying mother, her abusive father and her younger sister, Clara. Although Julie is a purely fictional character, the events she relates and the people she interacts with are true. Wiseman based her story and the accounts presented in Puppet on those that appeared in Egyetertes, a daily Hungarian newspaper which was published at that time.

In the spring of 1882, 14 year old Esther Solymosi, a Christian, disappears on her way home from an errand to Kohlmayers. Her mother who is very distraught over her daughter’s disappearance feels certain that the Jews murdered Esther for her blood. Julie is a friend to both Esther and her sister Sophie as well as to the young Jewish lad, Morris Scharf who will play a prominent role in the blood libel of Tisza-Ezslar.

Julie is present when some women from the village try to bribe 14 year old Morris and his younger brother, Samuel into believing that the new Jewish butcher, Solomon Schwarcz kidnapped Esther and slit her throat. Eventually what starts out as a lie is accepted as fact and the Jewish men of the village are rounded up and incarcerated, including the synagogue butcher, Abraham Buxbaum and Leopold Braun, Morris and Samuel Scharf and their father. Finding that Sam is too young to testify, Morris is beaten and intimidated into accusing his father and several other Jewish men of killing Esther. The hatred and prejudice of the village people leads to the Jewish men being tried in the district court in Nyiregyhaza.

Wiseman inserts her fictional character into the story in order to recount the events from the perspective of a young person who thinks for herself and who witnesses events behind the scene. Julie bears no prejudice against the Jews. She was friends with Morris prior to Esther’s death and her and her family have been well treated and helped by the Jewish people of Tisza-Eszlar. She never judges Morris Scharf, recognizing that he has been manipulated and maltreated by people who should have been concerned with learning the truth rather than acting on their prejudices.

While many readers may find that Julie’s presence at all of the key events - the bribery of the young children, the jails where the Jewish men were held and at the trial – are overly coincidental, the retelling by Eva Wiseman is effective. The key characters in the event, notary Joseph Bary, the brutal court clerk Peczely, Chief Recsky, and the kindly Christian lawyer Karl Eotvos are well developed.

The book,Puppet, is aptly titled because Morris Scharf is no more than a puppet in the hands of authorities who are supposedly unbiased and responsible for overseeing community safety and judicial matters in a fair manner. Scharf, young and easily intimidated, was manipulated into testifying against his own father and his own people by those who hated the Jewish people living in their village and their country. Morris the Puppet is very much the opposite to the puppet, Leslie the Brave who boldly defeats evil in the play that Julie and Sophie watch at the beginning of the story.

Wiseman has written an excellent book on a difficult subject and one which many young people likely haven't heard about. Puppet is a book that informs readers about how prejudice and ignorance can result in the most terrible actions that one group of people might inflict upon another group who are different.

For more information on this event, you can read an entry in the Jewish Encyclopedia (

Book Details:
Puppet by Eva Wiseman
Toronto: Tundra Books 2009
243 pp.

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