In the schoolroom of a simple European village, Kicsi spends her days dreaming of the lands beyond the mountains: Paris and New York, Arabia and Shanghai. When the local rabbi curses Kicsi’s school for teaching lessons in Hebrew, the holy tongue, the possibility of adventure seems further away than ever. But when a mysterious stranger appears telling stories of far-off lands, Kicsi feels the world within her grasp.
His name is Vörös, and he is a magician’s assistant who seems to have powers all his own. There is darkness growing at the edge of the village—a darkness far blacker than any rabbi’s curse. Vörös warns of the Nazi threat, but only Kicsi hears what he says. As evil consumes a continent, Vörös will teach Kicsi that sometimes the magician’s greatest trick is survival.
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About the Author
Goldstein has worked as a proofreader, library aide, bookseller, and reviewer. She lives with her husband and their overexuberant Labrador retriever, Bonnie, in Oakland, California. Her website is www.brazenhussies.net/goldstein.
Read an Excerpt
The Red Magician
By Lisa Goldstein
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1982 Lisa Goldstein
All rights reserved.
In the town where Kicsi grew up there was a rabbi who could work miracles. It was a small town, and borders—Hungarian, Czech, Russian—ebbed and flowed around it like tides. Once, Kicsi remembered, she went too far from home and came to a place where the people spoke a different language. In the distance, on the horizon, stood the mountains, fat and placid as cows.
The rabbi who could work miracles was sitting in the living room talking to her parents as Kicsi came down the stairs early one morning. Outside the sun was rising slowly, its light falling on the trees and fields and the high tops of the brown and gray houses. Everything was silent, expectant, as though the town were spinning itself a tight cocoon of wool, preserving itself intact for future generations. The birds sounded muffled and far away.
"I'm sorry," Imre, Kicsi's father, was saying, "I don't agree with you. I don't see the point. Why should you—" He broke off as Kicsi came into the room. "Good morning, Kicsi," he said.
"Hurry and eat your breakfast," said Sarah, Kicsi's mother. "All the others have eaten and you'll be late for school."
"Let her stay," said the rabbi. "This concerns her too. She will not be going to school."
"Not going—" said Kicsi. "But why? What has happened?"
The rabbi leaned forward onto his walking stick to face her. The tips of his white beard nearly touched his knees. "You see," he said, "I've heard that the Hebrew language is being taught there as if it were Yiddish or—or Magyar. Is this true?"
Bits of Hebrew conversation came to her. My house, your house, our house. Hello, how are you? "Yes, it is," she said. "But we learn other things too. We learn—"
"They speak Hebrew now in Palestine, the immigrants," said Imre. "The school is keeping up with the times."
"Palestine," said the rabbi. "Immigrants." He scowled. Kicsi played nervously with a fold in her dress. "You see," said the rabbi, "Hebrew will be spoken only when the Messiah comes and we return to the Holy Land. That is to say, when God wills it. Until then Hebrew is to be spoken only in prayer.
"You must not send your children to this school, Imre," he went on. "They blaspheme against the Holy Name."
Imre looked at the rabbi. He was obstinate. He had been obstinate even as a young man, when he had overheard his parents making plans for his future. "And Imre," his father had said, "I think Imre will study to be a butcher." The young man had been so horrified at this that he had run away from his village. Twenty years later he had a house and a printing company next door.
"I want to give my children a good Jewish education," he said now. "Where else could I send them?"
"At the school they will learn only lies and half-truths about their traditions," said the rabbi. "You could teach them better yourself, at home. For reading and mathematics and so forth they could go to the public school."
"I don't agree," said Imre. "Kicsi is thirteen, too old to be taught at home. And the rest of my children are older. They will continue to go to the school."
The rabbi looked out the window. The only things that moved outside were shadows and chimney smoke. He raised his heavy eyebrows and turned to Imre. "I'm afraid not," he said. "You see, I will put a curse on the school."
Imre moved awkwardly in his chair. Sarah, watching him, felt a touch of terror at the rabbi's words. Five years ago Imre had gone to Budapest to have a delicate operation on his spine, and Sarah, fearing that he would die, had asked the rabbi to pray to God to save him. The operation had been successful, but Imre had lost the use of his left arm.
"I am telling you this," the rabbi went on, "because you are one of the most influential people in the town. If you take your children out of the school, the rest of the townspeople will soon do the same."
"I'm not afraid of your curses," Imre said finally. "My children will continue to go to the school."
"You will delay things for a while," said the rabbi. "But the school will die all the same. Soon your children will be the only ones attending."
He grasped his walking stick and stood up. "No need," he said, as Imre stood to walk him to the door. "I hope you'll reconsider. Good day." He opened the door and let himself out.
Kicsi ran to Sarah and held her. "What will happen?" she asked. "Can he kill us? What will he do?"
"Hush," said Sarah, still badly frightened herself. "You shouldn't let the devil hear you say such things or they may come true. Everything will be all right."
Kicsi hugged Sarah tightly. The overstuffed chair smelled of lavender and chamomile.
"Hush," said Sarah again. "Now, go to school."
"Cursed be the school," said the rabbi. "And cursed be those who go there to study, and cursed be those who send their children there to study. Forty demons will dwell with them for forty days and nights, and their life will be filled with torment. And cursed be those who talk to them, and those who call on them, and those who sit at their table. Twenty demons will dwell with them for twenty days and nights, and they will have no peace.
"And thrice cursed be those who teach at the school, for they have blasphemed. From them the Holy Name has turned His face, and they are damned eternally."
The rabbi paused. He remembered vividly the time Sarah had come to see him, her look of helplessness and the quick grateful smile she had given him when he had promised to pray for her and her husband. He felt no anger against them now. Well, perhaps Imre would change his mind. He sighed and said, "Amen."
A few blocks away, Kicsi was working a different kind of magic. While walking home from school she had seen a nun, and she knew that if she made a wish and held the top button of her shoe until she saw a chimney sweep her wish would come true. Her arm hurt from stretching it and her legs were beginning to cramp, but she held on to the button as if it were a life raft. She wiped the hair from her face with her free hand as she looked hopefully up at the street, but she saw only a few students. Sighing, she lowered her head and looked again at her shoe, a hand-me-down from an older sister.
She was not quite sure what she had wished for. She knew it had to do with words—words that conjured up other words within her mind. Siam: silk, spices, tea, houseboats and jungles and sand under moonlight. Arabia: camels, figs, dates, leagues of desert sand, women with their faces hidden by veils of old coins. Paris, New York: fashionable dresses and silk stockings and more automobiles than she had seen in a lifetime.
Beyond the mountains, she knew, were other people, other ways of life. Her father had left his town, had escaped and made a new life; she wanted her turn. In her mind the suitcases were all packed, the good-byes all said. She was ready to leave, ready for whatever fate would send her.
She looked up again. There! It was a chimney sweep, unmistakable, covered with soot. She straightened slowly, stretched her legs, and flexed her fingers. She smiled with triumph.
That Friday at the synagogue Imre met a stranger. In a town where everyone knew everyone else the stranger stood out. He was tall, with bright red hair and beard, and his clothes—Imre did not recognize the fashion, but they were clearly not from Eastern Europe. Imre noticed the man during the services and planned to talk to him later and make him feel welcome, after he had talked for a while with the other men in the village as he had done every week for most of his life. But after the services the other men backed away when he approached them, smiling and nodding and making excuses about an early dinner. Word of the curse had spread. The school was half empty, and the parents of the children who remained were nervous and ready to change sides.
Finally only Imre and the stranger were left, standing in the shadows of the synagogue. The lamplighter made his slow way down the street, casting light against darkness.
"Sholom aleichem," said Imre. "Where are you from?"
"Aleichem sholom," said the stranger. "Lately? Lately I'm from Czechoslovakia." Imre couldn't place his accent. It wasn't Czech or Slovak.
"Ah," said Imre. "Czechoslovakia. When this town was part of Czechoslovakia, those were better times. The freedom—"
"You wouldn't recognize Czechoslovakia now," said the stranger. "The freedom is gone now—the Germans have seen to that."
"The Germans," said Imre. "The Hungarian government signed a treaty with the Germans, only last year. But so far they have not acted against us." He shrugged with his right arm, his left arm a dead weight against his side. "We are such a small village, after all, and so far from things ..."
A look, almost of pain, crossed the stranger's face, but he said nothing. Sudden alarm took Imre. "Do you think—Are we in danger?" he asked.
"I think—perhaps you are," the stranger said softly. "But perhaps not for a while. Still, if you have relatives in America"—he glanced at Imre, and Imre found himself wondering how the stranger had known about his family—"you should make plans to leave this place."
"To—to leave?" Imre said. "To leave my village?"
"If you can," said the stranger. "But come, my friend, let's talk of more cheerful subjects."
"So," said Imre, saying the first thing that came into his mind, "are you planning to stay here a while?"
"No," said the stranger. "Only for a few days."
"Do you have a place to stay?"
"Then I insist you stay with us," said Imre. "Though I should warn you—we've had a disagreement with the rabbi. And the townspeople, for the most part, have sided with him."
"Your rabbi," the stranger said. "They say he's a great scholar, or so I've heard."
"He was at one time," Imre said. "And perhaps he still is. Though I find myself disagreeing with him more and more."
"Well, then," said the stranger. "I would like to stay with you very much. What the rabbi thinks of you is not my concern."
"Good, very good," said Imre. "What is your name?"
"By my friends I am called Vörös," said the stranger. Vörös means red or redhead in Hungarian.
"Very good. Let's go home."
So, Imre thought, glancing at the tall man beside him as they set off through the evening streets, you don't want me to know your name or your business. Very well. You didn't want to know my business with the rabbi and the people of the village. You could be a political prisoner, escaped from those dogs in Germany, or you could be running guns to Palestine. Perhaps, perhaps. You could—who knows?—steal my silverware or one of my daughters, or murder me in my sleep. But I think not. I think you are an honest man, Vörös, and I think your business is your own.
The shadows were lengthening and the streets almost deserted as Imre and Vörös came home. "Gut Shabbos, Sarah," said Imre. "I have brought a guest. This is Vörös."
"Come in, come in, Vörös," said Sarah. "Girls, one of you run and get another plate for our guest. We have company!"
Kicsi turned and saw the stranger in the doorway. Light from the house fell upon him, turning his beard and hair golden. He looked at her, and she thought that he could not be much older than Magda, the oldest sister. His skin was pale and his eyes in the light were very blue.
At dinner the girls made much of the stranger, laughing and softly teasing him about his hair. Their brother Tibor sat near Imre and watched Vörös quietly. "Where are you from?" asked Magda.
Vörös repeated his words to Imre. "Lately? Lately from Czechoslovakia."
"No," said Kicsi. "Where were you before that?"
Imre shot her a warning glance, but she ignored it and looked instead directly at Vörös.
"All over," Vörös answered, smiling. "Europe, America, Asia ..."
"Asia!" said Kicsi, breathing the word, savoring it.
"He means Palestine," said Ilona scornfully. "No one goes any farther than that."
"No," said Vörös. "I've been to Palestine, certainly, but I've been farther. Shanghai."
Shanghai. It was another word for Kicsi to store away and save, to bring out later and examine. This, then, was the way her wish would be answered. "Where else?" she said. "What was it like? Did you see statues and ruins and bazaars? Did you go to the Great Wall of China? To the Himalayas?"
Vörös laughed. "Yes, yes, all of that and more," he said.
"What did—" She stopped, noticing for the first time the thin scar that ran from his hairline, cutting across one eyebrow and disappearing into his beard. "Where did you get that scar?"
"Kicsi!" said Imre.
"It's all right," said Vörös. "I don't mind. It was during the last war. We were attacked by looters."
"The war?" said Kicsi suspiciously. "You're not old enough."
"Now that is really enough, do you hear me!" said Imre. "Excuse my daughter, please. She sometimes gets carried away."
"Oh, she doesn't bother me," said Vörös. "I'd be happy to answer her questions." Then, seeing Imre's expression: "Some other time, perhaps."
The next day Kicsi found Vörös seated at a table, looking through the books in the library. "Tell me a story," she said.
Vörös put down the book he was holding. His hands, Kicsi noticed, were pale and slender, and covered with fine golden hair. "What kind of story?" he asked.
"Anything," said Kicsi fiercely.
"Let me see," said Vörös. Kicsi watched him carefully, studying his smooth young face, his clear wide eyes, his short curly beard. "All right. When I was in America I worked for a while for a magician."
"Yes, a real magician. He looked like a cat—like an old cat that's been left out in the rain too long, sort of seedy and mangy—but you knew that he'd always find enough to eat, and somehow, no matter where we were, he'd always manage to keep himself spotlessly clean. He had long sleek black hair, and an elaborately curled black mustache, but under the mustache all his teeth were rotten. We'd travel around from town to town, putting on shows, and once a year we'd return to New York.
"He loved New York. I don't know why. New York is dirty and noisy and crowded, and likely to get worse. But he seemed very much at home there, and he'd always tell me, after a particularly good night, that when he'd had enough of touring he'd settle down in New York and never go back on stage again.
"Well, one night in New York we'd done fairly well. He'd taught me a few tricks with coins and flowers and cards—"
"Can you still do them?" said Kicsi.
"Surely. You never forget. I'll show you a few, after the Shabbos. Anyway, toward the end of the show we did a vanishing act. What usually happened was, I'd build a box around the magician, made of thick boards, and when I opened the box he would be gone. Then I'd close up the box, open it again, and—lo and behold—there he'd be again. But this particular night, when I opened the box again, he was still missing. I was panicked. The audience got restless, and then furious. Then they began to throw things. I hurried off the stage. But as I left, I swore I saw a sleek black cat walking out the stage door."
Kicsi thought a while. "That's not a true story," she said finally.
"Well, you know how stories are. Parts of them are true and parts are made up. And anyway, you didn't ask me for a true story."
"Kicsi!" someone called.
"That's Magda," said Kicsi. "I'd better go."
"Come back any time," said Vörös. "We'll talk some more."
"I will," said Kicsi.
The next day Kicsi waited impatiently for school to end. The few students that remained fidgeted restlessly, certain the curse was coming home to rest on their shoulders. They were afraid to stay in school and afraid to disobey their parents by leaving. The teachers could do nothing with them. Kicsi, unnoticed, sat in a corner and daydreamed of Vörös.
She ran home after school, stopping for no one. He wasn't there. All afternoon she waited, wandering through the old, vast house until at last she heard his footsteps at the door. She ran to the living room.
"Vörös!" she said. "Tell me a story."
"Give me a minute, please," said Vörös. He sighed and sat in one of the chairs, stretching his long legs in front of him. "I have a better idea. Why don't you tell me a story?"
"Me?" said Kicsi. "About what? I haven't been anywhere."
"Oh, about anything," Vörös said. "Why do they call you Kicsi, for example?"
"Oh, that," Kicsi said. "That's not important. They've called me the Little One since I was born. Because I'm the youngest. My real name is—"
"No," said Vörös. "If you tell me your real name I shall have to tell you mine. Tell me something else. What did you do in school today?"
Excerpted from The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein. Copyright © 1982 Lisa Goldstein. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An interesting piece of historical fantasy that showcases Jewish culture in a fantasy setting. But the pacing isn't there. Goldstein is not a quality writer, and while she has good ideas it just doesn't come together.
A book with a weird tone -- at times seeming an adult fable, at times a children's book, at times something else. Started promisingly, and then petered out. I ended up skimming, and as a result it's entirely possible I am judging too harshly. As a general rule, however, books that deal moral/emotional high explosive need to take exquisite care. More care than was taken here.Some vivid moments -- the dream of the man with no teeth, for example...4.12.07
Pre-World War Two and a young girl finds that there is still some kinds of magic in this world and it is not the “Who” that yields the magic that matters, or even from “where”, but what good or evil the practitioners seek to bring about that ultimately decides what magic is good or bad.
Kicsi is a young girl on the cusp of becoming a teenager. She lives in a small village full of family and is a devout Hebrew. The man with the most authority in their village seems to be their local rabbi, who seems more interested in maintaining is own power and sense of worth than actually helping the community. This is evident from the way he deals with the local school that insists on teaching the children Hebrew. Upset that the school refuses to stop their instruction, and upset that the families refuse to leave the school, the rabbi places a curse on the school. Apparently, being a very wise Jewish leader means you are also a magician in this world as we see the same is true when a stranger named Voros comes to town. Voros is a red haired magician who is wise and well versed in Hebrew lore. He lifts the curse placed by the rabbi, but gains him as an enemy. In the backdrop of all of this is WW2 which soon comes to the forefront when soldiers appear at Kicsi’s door. Readers go into it thinking the red magician will be the main character, or the focus, yet they might be disappointed to find that it is Kicsi that runs the story. She propels all of the events and Voros, the magician, is merely a secondary character that appears when Kicsi’s need is great, almost like a deux ex machina. This was a very interesting book, though the cover makes it seem much more mysterious than it is, and the synopsis makes it sound much more action packed than it is. The Red Magician is a solid, well written book that should do very well with the ten to fifteen year old crowd. It’s a superficial introductory look into the horrors of the Holocaust which have been muted for the target audience. //I received this title for free in exchange for an honest review//
2.5 stars The cover of The Red Magician trumpets that it won the National Book Award, and that is technically true. The Red Magician did win the 1983 National Book Award: for best original paperback. (I suspect that I am not the only reader to see the gold "National Book Award Winner" medallion and immediately think of the National Book Award for Fiction (Hardcover), which was won that year by Alice Walker's The Color Purple.) Thus, I have to admit that I entered into my reading of The Red Magician with a false, and therefore unrealistic, expectation that this book won the National Book Award. Not surprisingly, Goldstein's novel did not live up to that expectation, and I find it hard, now that I have learned the truth, to reassess my reading experience in light of that truth. To summarize the story, the titular Red Magician comes to a small Hungarian Jewish village to warn its residents of the impending Holocaust. There he meets the village's rabbi, a practitioner of the Kabbalah, who refuses (as many Jews did) to accept the horror on the horizon and who perceives the Red Magician as a challenge to his authority. The rabbi ultimately forces the Red Magician to leave, but not before he has befriended Kicsi, a young teenage girl. The remainder of this short book follows Kicsi through the Holocaust, with the Red Magician making periodic cameo appearances. It's hard to be critical of a book based on the Holocaust because any criticism feels like a denigration of the Jewish experience. The Red Magician isn't a bad book, but viewing the Holocaust through its magical lens does not add anything to the reader's understanding of that experience. Accordingly, the book feels gimmicky because, without the Holocaust as its background, it is just a somewhat disjointed supernatural folk tale. Those looking for a meaningful exploration of the Holocaust through fiction can find much better books, as can those who enjoy paranormal fantasy. The Red Magician may have been the best paperback original of 1983, but in 2014, I'd give it a pass. I received a free copy of The Red Magician through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.