Goliath’s Head, by Alan Fleishman, is a novel that depicts the oppressing life of being Jewish in Russia during the late 19th century and early 20th century, specifically the pogroms of 1905.
Those pogroms were the precursor to the 1917 revolutions, which ended in Communist/Bolshevik control of the country. That the Revolution of 1905 became a defining force in the pogroms, and over 3,000 Jews were killed. They were not necessarily killed by government forces, but by individuals who banded together against them. Hatred was prevalent. Avi was coming of age during one of the most tumultuous times in Russian history.
Avi Schneider is the main character, and at nine-years of age becomes a hated boy, hated by Viktor Askinov. Viktor’s father is influential, and as the son, he constantly lets Avi know that there will not be repercussions for his tormenting and brutal behavior against Avi. He feels he can do, and get away with, anything he chooses to undertake. His father will take care of any situation for him.
Avi’s family and all Jews are constantly under surveillance, and forced to live in the Pale of Settlement. They are able to work, but unable to live within city/town limits. Their daily borders are within the Pale. And, to top it off, the riots and Antisemitism against the Jews were a part of daily life, the fear ever present.
Avi matures, marries, has family. Within that realm, he becomes part of a group who try to stop the stronghold of inhumane antisemites who are trying to overtake the village he lives in. A plan unfolds. Avi must decide what to do. He is basically left with two choices, save himself and his family, or fight for his beliefs, his people, his community.
Fleishman is brilliant with his word-imagery, creating scenes the reader can see before them. Goliath’s Head is a compelling and powerful read, and this reader read it straight through. Once I began it, I couldn’t put it down. The story is much more than historical fiction, history that Fleishman brings to life, masterfully. I highly recommend Goliath’s Head to everyone.