Review: Wrath Becomes Her

Wrath Becomes Her

by Aden Polydoros

Inkyard Press (imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), 2023

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Rebecca Klempner

Wrath Becomes Her is a fantasy novel about the Shoah but also a reflection upon self-determination and personhood. During WWII, Ezra hides in a barn in Lithuania. There he creates a golem, Vera. He tells her, "An ordinary golem is created from pure elements, the same dust from which HaShem shaped the first man. But to create you, it involved power gained from going against all our commandments (page 32)." Indeed, Ezra has used the eyes, nails, tongue, and teeth of his murdered daughter, Chaya, in order to fashion Vera. Why? To avenge Chaya’s death. With her incredible strength, Chaya’s memories, and immunity to many weapons, Vera was created to get even with the Nazis.

However, Vera doesn't want to be a mere instrument of Ezra's revenge. She wants to know: Is she more than an unholy monstrosity, more than the task she was created for? She yearns to be valued for herself.

When Ezra and his library are captured by Nazis, Vera searches the countryside for him. Soon, she meets Akiva, a partisan and Chaya’s beloved. Vera reveals that she is a golem, but not that she was made with Chaya’s remains. Like Ezra, Akiva wants revenge and views Vera as his accomplice in this duty. However, Vera makes other friends who view her as a good Jewish woman, not an abomination or an avenger.

A tip leads Vera to Vilna, where she begins to piece together the reason why the Nazis sought Ezra—and his books. She is able to avenge Chava's death, but this leaves her unsure of her purpose.

“Vera” is a common Lithuanian name meaning “faith” and is based on the word “truth” in Latin—and “emes,” meaning “truth” in Hebrew is the inscription that brings a golem to life. Indeed, Wrath Becomes Her is steeped in Jewish customs, texts, history, philosophy, and folklore. For example, Vera connects her first view of an aircraft with the Ziz of Jewish legend, calls her creator “Tati” (Yiddish for “father”), and calms herself by singing “Oyfn Pripetchik.” These details enhance Polydoros’ storytelling. Relevant geography, the organization of partisans—it all seems well researched. And it's all explained clearly enough that non-Jewish readers will get almost as much out of the book as Jewish ones.

There is one issue that jarred me as soon as it appeared and then again each time it popped up: for some reason, all the Hebrew is rendered with Israeli pronunciation when transliterated rather than the pronunciation a Lithuanian would have used (I have a suspicion this might be the choice of the editors, rather than the author himself).

This tiny complaint aside, Wrath Becomes Her is a fast-paced and moving adventure. With some graphic violence and a couple expletives, the book is best for the upper end of the YA audience. Readers will learn something about the Shoah in Lithuania (albeit with fantastical elaborations) and have meaty philosophical ideas to chew on.

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Reviewer Rebecca Klempner is a writer and freelance editor living in Los Angeles with her husband and kids. Her books include the PJ Our Way pick Adina at Her Best, A Dozen Daisies for Raizy, and--most recently--How to Welcome an Alien. Additionally, her work for adults has appeared in venues including Tablet, The Wisdom Daily, PB Daily, The Jewish Press, Jewish Review of Books,, Hamodia, Binah and Kveller.