The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein
Publisher – Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Published – Out Now
Price - £5.62 kindle eBook
This was the September choice for the #TheLadyVaults reading group started by Elizabeth of the excellent book blog Books n Pieces. The reding group can be found on social media with the hashtag and on GoodReads in the Groups. The aim is to reads SF & Fantasy works by women that over 15 years old. Please Join in!!
On the eve of World War II, a wandering magician comes to a small Hungarian village prophesying death and destruction. Eleven-year-old Kicsi believes Voros and attempts to aid him in protecting the village. But the local rabbi, who possesses magical powers, insists that the village is safe, and frustrates Voros’ attempts to transport them all to safety. Then the Nazis comes and the world changes…
The worst part of a nightmare is knowing what is about to happen and finding you’re powerless to stop it. You see it coming, closer, closer and then blam its upon you. But after a horrific experience the next question you’ll ask yourself “what am I supposed to do next?” and “Should I even bother carrying on?”. In this superb children’s story, the real nightmares of the Holocaust are explored while the reader is focused on an independent young girl and her charming family in 1940’s Hungary.
The story is on one level very simple Kicsi is the young independent daughter of a wealthy printer finds herself embroiled in a battle between two magicians. The respected and very traditional Rabbi of the village and a mysterious newcomer named Voros who is clearly powerful but seems to be wary of something on the horizon. Initially it seems a clash of old versus new ways of viewing the world but then you realise this is Hungary in the 1940s and the Nazis are on the move towards the Jewish population of the village. Voros warns the town of an unimaginable horror and Kicsi dreams of a man with no teeth driving towards her family. Into this we start an ongoing battle between magicians that involves golems, ghosts and curses. The rabbi feels Voros is endangering the peace of the village with his dangerous ideas and Kicsi finds him offering a way of life very different to those her family believe she will follow.
As we have the advantage of history we understand (particularly as adults) exactly what the threat is, and the question is can this be avoided for her family. It’s a building of tension particularly as the early chapters of the book paint this charming village life and amazingly vivid world of Jewish traditions, folklore and magics. The storm is threatening to destroy all of this and Voros seems to awaken special abilities within Kicsi who seems to almost act as an apprentice at first. But importantly the magic doesn’t save Kicsi – she and her family are rounded up and herded to a concentration camp. There is no magical cheat applied - which is completely the correct choice for this kind of story. I feel this is an important point for you to know as the scenes in there are while not explicit make it very clear what happens to those Nazis feel are worthless. The brutalisation of the amazing clever teenager we have spent time with makes this part of the book heart-breaking but it’s a beautifully tragic piece of writing that haunted me weeks after finishing the tale. You can argue in this section Kicsi loses agency as the events happen to her, but I think this is intentional many amazing bright lives were destroyed by this period where the power of the regime swept away all they felt to be unhuman.
The final part of the book though is very, much focused on survivors. Kicsi is separated from her village and her family and has been almost destroyed by her experiences. This final section of the book both wraps up the battle of the two magicians and asks a question about how on earth you’re supposed to carry on and if you do is it a path of anger or forgiveness or something else. In this Kicsi who herself has seen so much and been hurt so much must decide how she will aid Voros in his final battle with the furious Rabbi. It’s an ending mixing the scariest ghosts of Jewish folklore and yet also an unexpected debate on hope and revenge.
This was a short but very powerful read and I found myself totally immersed in the world. Its beautifully put together and I think even adult readers would appreciate the mix of fairy-tale and review of one of our worst periods in human history but examines how those who survive the horrors of humanity can decide their own future paths. An excellent read.