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Review: The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein

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Summary

Winner of the National Book Award: In the shadow of the Holocaust, a young girl discovers the power of magic

In the schoolroom of a simple European village, Kicsi spends her days dreaming of the lands beyond the mountains: Paris and New York, Arabia and Shanghai. When the local rabbi curses Kicsi’s school for teaching lessons in Hebrew, the holy tongue, the possibility of adventure seems further away than ever. But when a mysterious stranger appears telling stories of far-off lands, Kicsi feels the world within her grasp.

His name is Vörös, and he is a magician’s assistant who seems to have powers all his own. There is darkness growing at the edge of the village—a darkness far blacker than any rabbi’s curse. Vörös warns of the Nazi threat, but only Kicsi hears what he says. As evil consumes a continent, Vörös will teach Kicsi that sometimes the magician’s greatest trick is survival.

Review

The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein is an intriguing tale that follows the protagonist, Kicsi, in a coming of age story that intertwines magic with the backdrop of WW2 Europe. The writing is well-done, if simple. Goldstein does an excellent job when she describes the magic being performed and its jarring shift in tone from ordinary to extraordinary. 

The character of Kicsi is eleven when we first meet her and is full of spunk and stubbornness. Kicsi is a likeable character, with believable flaws of being stubborn and curious even when it gets her into trouble. Kicsi longs to see new places and experience new things outside her small village so she is immediately interested in the wandering red-headed man that comes into town. He goes by the name Vörös, which means ‘red’, and with him brings trouble. Vörös defeats the town’s rabbi’s curse on Kicsi’s family and brings with him prophecies of incoming disaster. Kicsi must navigate this strange world she is thrust into by her association with Vörös and learns about herself along the way. 

The story itself uses WW2 mostly as a backdrop as Goldstein’s descriptions of the German’s atrocities are mentioned but not in gory detail, though that may be because the narrative follows Kicsi’s experiences and at one point so goes into some kind of fugue state where she doesn’t clearly remember what happened. Vörös and the rabbi’s magic are displayed throughout the novel, using Jewish religion as a sort of canvas. For instance, a golem is made and the name put on its forehead in order to animate it is in Hebrew. They also use the common fantasy trope of concealing your true name for when someone knows your true name they hold power over you. 

All in all, this story was an enjoyable tale with likeable characters, interesting magical elements and an engaging plot. I’d recommend it to anyone with a soft spot for fantasy tropes. 

Reviewed by Jazmin Gousse

Pages: 144 pages
Publisher: Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (October 21, 2014)

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