The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein is a new genre for me, that of historical fantasy. Although you could label this as a novel dealing with the holocaust, it really is the story of a young girl named Kisci who lives in a small Jewish community bordering Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. At the age of twelve, her life is simple. Her biggest complaint is that she must wear her older sister, Istvan’s, hand-me-downs. Imre, her father, runs the local printing press, publishing whatever news he can glean from the radio. The powerful Rabbi puts a curse on their home when Imre refuses to keep his children away from the local school.
And thus the magic begins.
Enter Voros, a stranger in town. Kind Imre invites him to stay and enjoy some home cooked meals and hospitality. Kisci is drawn to Voros, who tells fascinating stories of travels throughout the world. She begs Voros to take her away with him when he leaves, but Voros has a mission. He has come to the village to warn them all of impending doom. Voros trained under a great magician and can do a little magic. Kisci feels a connection. They both have the same nightmare of a toothless man.
During the marriage ceremony for the Rabbi’s daughter, the event is disturbed by a woman who wants to know what has happened to son who was visiting family in Germany. Voros calls out that he is dead, and the Rabbi accuses him of cursing his daughter.
Thus begins the battle of magic – Rabbi vs Voros – an underlying theme which helps drive the story. Ironically, in the end, both leave the village vulnerable for attack.
Since life in the village is simple, the story itself is simple. The calm and soothing everyday life has been jarred by the effects of magic. We are not surprised when the toothless one comes and takes the villagers away. The horrors of death and the concentration camp are unfolded calmly. This is the way life is now. Kisci barely knows what is happening, she sleep walks through the trauma. There is a song about a stranger bearing magic who is known to rescue the prisoners. Kisci feels some hope, but by the time Voros finds her, she has given up and is barely alive.
And here the true magic is revealed through their love for one another, revealed in a most unusual way. Together they must defeat the Rabbi and the evil he has hidden in the temple.
Since the holocaust is such an unbelievable event, the magic within the story does not seem out of place. We want Voros to succeed in his quest, even though we know the Holocaust is coming and there is nothing he can do to stop it. We understand that the villagers do not believe that other human beings could harm them this way. Even as they march to their deaths, they can’t comprehend the evil being perpetrated. And we understand why Kisci’s mind goes blank at times. It is all too horrible. So, compared to this unreality, the magic makes sense.
Although I enjoyed the book, there were times when it was confusing, especially when the magic became intense. Mainly, I grew to love Kisci and root for Voros to help her survive the ordeal. The entire novel had a bitter sweet feel, both at the beginning and at the end. It was inbetween that we held our breath and waited for the “hard part” to be over.
I give this book three and a half stars.
Thank you to Open Road Integrated Media for allowing me to download this book in exchange for an honest review.