This tale is set in a small European town. It is so small it doesn’t concern itself with the affairs of the outside world and the outside world is not concerned with it. This Jewish settlement is led by its Rabbi, and while he is integral to the tale, the story is about and told through the eyes of a young girl named Kisci. I call it a tale because the story is interwoven with folklore and myth. Jewish mysticism is held in juxtaposition to the Nazi threat of World War II. It is similar to Catherynne Valente’s ‘Deathless’ in this sense, but is centered on a Jewish village rather than Russian folklore in Leningrad. If you enjoyed ‘Deathless,’ in concept not style, I believe you will enjoy this book as well.
When Kisci is young a stranger visits Kisci’s town. He tells the people to call him Voros. With his coming he sets in motion great change for the townspeople. He is a magician, and in return for the kindness of Kisci’s father giving him shelter, he lifts a curse the Rabbi set on her father. The Rabbi set a curse on any parent who chose to continue sending their children to the school after they started teaching Hebrew. This kindness, while wonderful, pits the Rabbi against him to the detriment of everyone. Voros has a vision of a man with no teeth bringing death to the town’s people. When he warns them of the threat the Rabbi dismisses Voros and throws him out-of-town. Kisci is heartbroken. He does visit her in the future, however, and each time he tries to warn the village of the danger only to be dismissed and ignored . Unfortunately, evil does come and how Voros, Kisci and the Rabbi adapt is the heart of this book.
Goldstein’s writing style has the feeling of reading a folktale. I enjoyed ‘The Red Magician.’ I gained an attachment to Kisci, Voros, and in the end even the Rabbi. Her characters are what drives her story. There is very little action in the beginning, however, it significantly picks up towards the end of the book. I did not want to put it down. My heart broke for Kisci. Goldstein is able to evoke emotion outside of just anger and love. She was able to evoke and maintain a feeling of detachment that is not so easily understood or expressed. She handled difficult subject matter with care from a believable and respectful manner.
The magical realism is handled well if not in such a lavish style as Valente. It feels appropriately understated even though she adds magicians and golem. The magic contrasts with the harsh real violence in the tale. I encourage anyone who enjoys magical realism, Jewish folklore, or World War II fiction to pick this up.
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