Book Review

The Witches Of Escazú

The Witches of Escazú (and Other Jewish Fairytales)

  • Author: Roots Metals
  • Genre: Fairytales
  • Publication Date: October 31, 2021
  • Publisher: Roots Metals

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Dybbuks and golems. Witches and wicked kings. Tragedy and triumph in the Promised Land.

The Witches of Escazú and Other Jewish Fairytales marries Jewish ancestral wisdom and mythical fantasy in this fast-paced, galvanizing collection.

Cast Hebrew incantations to manifest a terrorizing beast, creep through dark forests on plagued land, and embark on a sage’s long pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Devour generational history and ancestral knowledge from every corner of the Diaspora. Meet the bewitching supernatural beings of Jewish legends from a faraway past.

The author’s debut celebrates poignant characters met with evil forces and armed with the strong Jewish resolve to overcome adversity. The anthology discards the antisemitism of classic European fairytales from the root and plants seeds for a new perspective of Jewish folklore.

Artist Roots Metals demonstrates intricate storytelling and provides an exclusive glossary of Jewish monsters and other mythical creatures to add depth to the reader’s experience.

I first came across Roots Metals on social media, where she works hard to create these amazing graphics to educate people about various Jewish-related topics. I’ve learned a ton of things from following her, plus she’s just a really cool person in general. She makes jewelry as well, but when she made a post about an upcoming book release about Jewish fairytales, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for it to release, and bought it as soon as I possibly could.

This book is the one I have been waiting for and never even knew it. As a child, I loved reading fairytales, but it wasn’t until I got much older that I realized how traditional Eastern European stories nearly always painted Jewish people as the villains. After taking out a copy of Grimm’s fairy tales and seeing antisemitism in almost every story, I was disgusted. Fortunately, I grew up in a household where Yiddish stories were also told, so I had some limited positive role models that could be found in stories, where I could see my own people. 

“As I got older, I took an interest in how antisemitism, colloquially known as “the world’s oldest hatred,” sneakily shows up in everyday things. Fairytales, it turns out, is one of those things.”

But this book? It absolutely shines. There are strong Jewish characters in each story, with gorgeous illustrations on almost every page. Special shout out to Shari Ross for the beautiful artwork throughout the book. And the villains? Aren’t the Jewish people. In some cases, it’s Christians, forcing the Jews to convert and persecuting them for their beliefs, mirroring so much of our history. In some cases, mythical creatures or situations that can’t be prevented are to blame. And in one case, it’s the story of the author’s grandfather, hiding out from the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The stories range from the Old World of Europe, to the New World of the Americas, and even to the Holy Land of Israel, reflecting the roots and Diaspora experience of the Jewish people. I was so intrigued by all these stories, only one of which I was actually familiar with (the golem). I think that is part of makes this book so fascinating — that the diversity of Jewish Diaspora allows for us to always be learning new things about our own people. 

Roots Metals did such an amazing job on this book. She is a natural storyteller, lapsing immediately into fairytale mode, and bringing the reader along for the ride. Don’t go into this expecting the sanitized version that children are given today: this is much more like the way fairytales used to be. They’re gruesome and brutal, they don’t sugarcoat the story, so it can be a little much for little kids. I’d strongly recommend giving this a quick read-through before reading this to your kids. But I do suggest picking this one up — it’s well worth the read, and as a bonus, it supports an amazing Jewish creator who works hard to actively fight antisemitism through education on a daily basis.

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