The Red Magician – Lisa Goldstien (Book Review)

red magician

The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein, first published in 1983 and winner of the National Book Award is a novel of suffering, survival, Jewish folklore and magic. All set during the terrible time of the Holocaust. Though written with the undertones of magic, it is still overall a story of the human condition and the evil that is done in the name of man.

Kicsi is a young girl in a small European village, who spends her time dreaming of faraway lands. But she is drawn into a conflict into her small village when the Rabbi curses the new school and her family for attending it because they teach lessons in the holy Hebrew tongue. The Rabbi, whose powers are well known, believes he is saving his village by doing so. A red haired stranger appears and saves Kicsi’s family, but in doing so, makes an enemy of the Rabbi.

When the Rabbi’s daughter is married, Voros, the red-haired stranger speaks out again. He warns of a great darkness growing on the borders of their village and that danger is coming. The Rabbi curses him and Voros retreats to the forest to create a protector for the village.

“…I protect the village, not you.” the rabbi said emphatically. “Do you think the people here do not know that? I am their teacher, their adviser, their”-he looked to the golem again, and his voice, though lowered, carried to where Kisci sat concealed by the rock-“magician. We do not need you here among us to create trouble. I am afraid you see monsters where none exist…”

The Rabbi drives Voros away. But the Rabbi is wrong for when he is away the darkness comes to the village and carries them away. It carries them to concentration camps and horrors they were not prepared for.

Kisci must survive the Holocaust, though she no longer wishes to, so that she can return to the village to find what is left of her family. The Rabbi and the Red Magician.

Goldstein creates a wonderful but startling tale of a time when all the magic in the world could not keep the greatest evil away. It also shows how people can react under such extreme moments in their lives. The desire to blame others when there is no one left to blame. The guilt of surviving when all others have past.

It is a special story and should be read by all. It should be taught in schools. Truly. The power of the conflicting morality tales involve alone illuminate the human condition.

What I find so intriguing is how Goldstein tells this story of concentration camps and the Holocaust and manages to keep the Nazis as such minor characters. For me, that was a powerful and majestic stroke of writing.

The Red Magician is a very good read.

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