The Red Magician (Lisa Goldstein)

The Red Magician is a young adult fantasy/magical realism novel by Lisa Goldstein, which won the National/American Book Award in 1983.

Plot:
Kicsi grows up in a primarily Jewish village in Hungary in the 40s. One day, a stranger comes along with bright red hair and immediately becomes a rival of the local rabbi because both are magicians. The stranger – Vörös – warns of  danger coming to the village but the rabbi refuses to listen to him. Kicsi falls in love with Vörös and is caught between the lines.

The book spans Kicsi’s entire adolescence and shows the grim reality of World War II and the concentration camps, by casting a bit of magic around it. It’s an interesting, quick read and one which can be very engaging, especially for younger kids (10-12).

redmagicianLook at the wonderful cover by Eric Fortune. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Let’s get my criticism out of the way first: There’s enough story for about 3 books in this slim volume (not even 200 pages). This makes for a rather hasty storytelling. I know that most kids don’t have the patience to read page-long descriptions of trees. Hell, I usually don’t have that patience. But that’s not what I’m asking for.
You’ve got a time span of about 6 years covered in less than 200 pages, so the story jumps quite a bit, once leaving out a whole year. And then it’s hard to kind of “get into the mood” – you’ve got young love blossoming and before you have the time to sigh, it’s a year later and they’re as good as engaged. It’s all a little fast and I caught myself more than once wondering, “when did that happen?”

But apart from that, I enjoyed it a lot. I felt like I really learned more about the Jewish traditions, beliefs and superstitions (and that although I don’t consider myself a complete dolt in this area, though certainly not a specialist), especially since the cultural framework seemed to be entirely different from the usual stuff I read. [Which might have contributed to the “when did that happen?”-feeling.]

The magic is expertly used and conjures up wonderful pictures. Just the way Vörös and his magic juggling balls are described had me seeing the scene completely.

The characters are well sketched and also well used to show the impact of the Holocaust: [Spoiler] Kicsi always asks questions and she’s very curious about everything, especially travelling. When she and her family get deported, she stops asking questions and more and more you notice how she doesn’t live anymore, but only functions. It makes the whole thing especially sad. [/Spoiler]

So, I’d recommend it, especially for reading together with a child.

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