Desperate for a solution, Max seeks out the now elderly, cynical magician and begs him for help. With gentle wisdom and heartbreaking humor, this is an inventive, deeply moving story about a young boy who needs a miracle, and a disillusioned old man who needs redemption. Get a FREE e-book by joining our mailing list today! Plus, receive recommendations for your next Book Club read.
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A true miracle from the first to the last page. You will enjoy this brilliantly written debut novel no matter what your mood and age are. Bergmann packs in enough magic and miracles to leave the reader under his spell. Tell us what you like, so we can send you books you'll love. Sign up and get a free eBook!
Trade Paperback. Price may vary by retailer. Add to Cart Add to Cart. About The Book. He was a rabbi, an unassuming teacher who sought to understand the mysteries that surround us all. A daunting task, but he pursued it with heart and soul. He spent countless hours brooding over the Torah, the Talmud, the Tanakh, and other riveting reads. After years of learning and teaching, he slowly began to understand the way things are, but more importantly, the way they ought to be.
There seemed to be some discrepancies between the shining glory of creation and the often baffling and rainy world in which we humans are forced to spend our lives. His words could light up the darkness like a candle. He lived with his wife, Rifka, in a tiny apartment in a ramshackle tenement building near the banks of the Vltava River.
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Their home consisted of only one room. A kitchen table, a woodburning stove, a sink, and, of course, a bed that creaked rhythmically during each Sabbath night, as it was written and decreed. Between the floors of their building was a miracle of modernity, an indoor toilet. To their daily annoyance, they had to share it with their upstairs neighbor, Moshe the Locksmith, a noisy man, an oaf, who fought frequently and loudly with his unpleasant wife.
Rabbi Goldenhirsch lived in a time of great renewal, but for the most part he remained blissfully untouched by the momentous changes around him. Just a few years earlier, the gas lamps on the streets had been replaced by electric ones, which had people divided. Was it the work of Satan or was it socialism? Also, steel tracks had been laid by the banks of the river, and soon the carriages that used to rattle up and down the roads made way for a tram, its metal wheels screeching and emitting sparks of fire.
This is what it looked like, the everyday magic of a new age. Laibl Goldenhirsch had little use for it. Trams or no trams, life was hard. He went about his daily work in much the same way that the Jews of Europe had done for centuries and would presumably do for centuries to come.
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His face was narrow and pale; he had a black beard. His eyes were deep and dark, and he peered out at the world with a certain amount of distrust. At night, after the hardships of the day, the rabbi rested his head on a pillow next to his beloved wife, Rifka, a strong and beautiful woman with rough hands, gentle eyes, and flowing auburn hair, and he imagined that he could see the stars above the ceiling. His eyes wandered far into the heavens, then turned like a leaf in the breeze and looked back down to earth, this tiny spark in the universe.
As exhausting as life could be, there was—behind the thin veil of the ordinary—a brilliance that mystified and exhilarated him. Night after night, he would lie in bed and stare into the darkness.
In this new age of man-made wonders, was there no more room for real miracles? Rabbi Goldenhirsch was in need of one. There was something missing in his life: a son. He spent his days teaching the sons of other men—idiots, the lot of them—and when he looked at them, he imagined that one day he would look into the face of his own child. So far, his prayers went unanswered.
The sun rose for others, but not for Laibl and Rifka. Many a night, the rabbi toiled away on top of his wife, but it was fruitless. And so the bed creaked less and less. The new century was still young when a war broke out. This was, in and of itself, nothing remarkable. Wars were always breaking out, like the flu.
But this war was unlike others, even though Rabbi Goldenhirsch and his wife failed to notice it at first. This was the Great War. It would soon leave millions dead in its wake. It was no flu, it was the plague. His students asked him to explain what was going on, and for the first time in his life, he was confronted with something beyond his reach. Until now, he could simply blame God and His mysterious ways, but this new war was anything but divine. The rabbi was perplexed. He stood in front of his class, his mouth hanging open, stuttering helplessly.
He knew the plain facts, of course. Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated in Sarajevo at the hands of a coward. But Sarajevo was far away from the center of the civilized world, deep in the Balkans: what did it matter if someone was shot there? The goyim were always shooting at one another. Was one archduke less really such a tragedy?
He knew, of course, that human life was immeasurably precious, that each violent death was an act of blasphemy and so forth, and he understood why the emperor of Austria-Hungary—to whom he and the citizens of Prague had sworn their allegiance—was upset. But really, why should this concern him?
But it did, greatly. Within a few months, agitation spread through the streets of Prague. Everyone tried to make sense of the latest developments on the front. Women anxiously gathered at Wenceslas Square, trading information about their sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers, who had eagerly joined the war effort. Very few realized that most of their men would never return. Those who were too young to fight studied the lists of the wounded and fallen, published every day, like the results of a soccer match. How many of ours?
How many of theirs? The young were anxious to fight, and they would soon get the chance. The war raged on for many years and, in the process, became less and less choosy: it devoured all. Even the Jews.
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When Rifka came home from the market, she burst into tears. Her spindly-legged husband was standing uneasily in front of their only mirror, dressed—somewhat unusually—in a uniform. He seemed confused as he held out his bayonet. She hid her face and turned away. Rifka had to survive without her husband. Which, as it turned out, was remarkably easy.
She realized that he really was rather useless around the house. She missed him anyway. Never before in her life had she missed something so useless with so much fervor. Almost every day, Rifka left the city and went into the woods outside of Prague, carrying two buckets full of coal, which she traded for butter and bread at nearby farms. Better to be cold than hungry. When summer approached and the days grew warmer, her endeavor became more difficult.
She had to find other things to take to the country, and on the way back, she hid the butter under her skirt. Danger was everywhere. More than once, there was nothing left by the time she came home, especially when there was partisan fighting and she had to hide in the woods until it was over.
A Trick of the Light
Nothing left but a warm trail of molten butter running down her thighs. One evening in September, as she came home, she found Moshe the Locksmith from upstairs sitting on the staircase. It was odd to see this giant of a man crying, his heavy bulk wavering, his head bobbing up and down. Deep and sorrowful sobs emerged from his body. When she went up to him and asked him what was wrong, he told her that he had just returned from the front, on furlough, but no sooner had he entered his apartment than his wife had told him it was over between them.
No letters, nothing, he said between sobs. Rifka felt sorry for him. She took him into her arms and comforted him. The butter was still sticking to her leg. A comic whirligig by Frayn, author of five previous novels most published in the US in the late 60's and the playwright responsible for such British and American hits as Noises Off and Benefactors.
Now, he creates the viewpoint of a frighteningly little man who puts a temporary blight on English letters by marrying perhaps the greatest living novelist, known here simply as JL. We never learn the little man's name, since the story is composed of his rambling, embarrassingly self-revelatory letters. However, we do know that he teaches English at a university near London and is preparing a critical study of JL when he finds the nerve to invite her to talk to his students, and ends spending the night with the great lady in an uncomfortable single bed--a situation he sees metaphorically, of course: ""There she was, comfortably ensconced in the soft centre of English letters, not even aware that there were others clinging painfully to their outer edges.
When the professor marries her and takes her to a secluded country house, he can't quite stomach the fact that she commences a book about his sad-sack mother, since he's been expecting to see a fellow something like himself turn up in one of her oeuvres, Soon, he's tampering with her work, whisking her away to the University of Abu Dhabi--why not, can't she write anywhere?
Frayn's first-person format keeps the novel from shedding much light on JL's creative process. Still, the result is comically succulent enough for those who like their professors roasted. There was a problem adding your email address. Please try again.
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