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The Book Nook

Bergmann’s ‘The Trick’ is Light-Hearted Look at Serious Subjects


April 26, 2018

One of my most reliable sources for readings comes from long-time friend Molly B. We have similar tastes and she has a keen eye for good books. When she suggested I read “The Trick” by Emanuel Bergmann, I wasted no time in finding a copy and am happy to share it with you.

A bestseller in Europe, it’s about the lure of magic and the circus. We start in Prague and the year is 1934. The son of a rabbi is captivated when a magician and his beautiful assistant perform amazing tricks. When circumstances in his life change drastically, he runs away in the hopes of joining the troupe and following in the magician’s footsteps.

Setbacks occur almost immediately. How will he find a traveling circus? Will he be able to convince the owner to hire an inexperienced young boy? He learns having the name Moshe Goldenhirsche is problematic as it’s a dangerous time to be Jewish in Europe. He must find a new name, keep his head down and pray his secret isn’t discovered by the authorities.

We learn more about Moshe’s life and adversities of the times, although the author does a wonderful job of alluding to the horrors without painting an overly-detailed portrait.

Shortly into the book we’re introduced to another boy, but one who lives in Los Angeles at the beginning of this century. Ten-year-old Max is upset about his parents’ rocky relationship. On the outside, he appears cool and unfazed by the turmoil, but on the inside he’s fearful about an uncertain future and desperate to keep his parents from splitting up.

One day he finds a scratchy record album of the great Zabbatini performing magical illusions. One is an eternal love spell, which Max is convinced he should learn to prevent his parents from divorcing. Unfortunately, the record is so scratched that he can’t understand the spell and decides he must find the magician and convince him to help.

But, like Moshe, Max also faces difficult obstacles. He has no idea how to find Zabbatini and worries that even if he does, it could be too late. Both Max and Moshe have dreams and are unsure how to realize them, but have plenty of determination.

The author alternates between the stories of Max and Moshe’s lives and we learn of their struggles with taking a leap of faith. Both are interesting tales in their own right that become even more enjoyable when the storylines merge. Secrets and hoping for the best play a part in both stories. Moshe and Max may have grown up in different eras and countries, but they deal with similar emotions.

I enjoyed the comparisons and contrasts of the two tales as well as the dialog timing and content. Both stories were well-told and I liked how the author handled melding the stories. The plot was a well-executed idea with a light-hearted and charming style of prose. I especially liked the brand and frequency of humor.

Equally refreshing was providing characters we could recognize and care about. I empathized with their plights, felt their fears and celebrated their victories with them. One mistaken-identity scene was cleverly handled with just the right level of drama and comedy.

I found this to be a pleasing moralistic tale and liked the author’s light touch with heavy subjects. There was a hopefulness that buoyed the storyline as I cheered for the heroes. Their message of following one’s dreams despite adversity was satisfying if not inspiring.

So, if you’re in the mood for a good story with humor, a little history and some interesting characters, this one is definitely for you.

This leads me to the subject of how to find good books. Most avid readers have multiple sources: friends, favorite reviewers, bestseller or award-winning lists, or browsing at their local book store or library. The latter has a monthly newsletter called “The Book Page” with suggestions listed by genre.

Years ago, hearing the phrase “So many books, so little time” made me suspect some sources had too many mediocre reads. At that time the library’s LINKCat software let me keep one reading list, but it was ridiculously long and had a name assigned by the library that had no meaning for me.

Today software is much improved and lets users create multiple lists, which I love. The most meaningful improvement is being able to name my own lists! Now my list name reflects the source. That’s allowed me to eliminate those that don’t consistently match my reading preference. While it isn’t foolproof, I’m wasting less time slogging through books I don’t enjoy.

It’s my hope that this column will provides enough good suggestions that it will become one of your most reliable resources.


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