The Magic We Do Here

Lawrence Rudner, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $16.95 (212p) ISBN 978-0-395-45034-5
This first novel about a young, blond and blue-eyed Jew who lives by his wits in order to survive the Nazi invasion of Poland is a stirring testimony both to history and to its author's narrative skill. The inevitable comparisons to The Painted Bird are valid, but where Kosinski lingers over mind-destroying horrors, Rudner has created a more graceful and poetic study in sadness. Chaim Turkov, born after five daughters to a quick-tempered innkeeper in the village of Nowy Dwor, is a brilliant scholar by age four. But an accident leaves him mute for a time, and, though his speech eventually returns, it is as an idiot servant that Chaim later masquerades. Chaim has been apprenticed to a photographer, as his speechless years have robbed him of any interest in the Talmud (despite his father's hopes, Chaim would only doodle drawings in the endpapers of prayerbooks). Now he bears witness to the Nazi invasion, from Nowy Dwor to one terrible glimpse of the Warsaw ghetto. He makes pictures, with a camera, with a pencil, out of wire, with a stick in dirt or snow and, in this way, makes a record so the world will know. He befriends a dwarf magician who teaches him to see beauty, in spite of the evil all around, and is thus saved from madness as the Russians advance and the war, for Chaim, is over. While at times constrained by a need to fit into an old-fashioned storytelling tradition, this is a rich book that is filled with moving and evocative images of a lost world. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/25/1988
Release date: 05/01/1988
Genre: Fiction
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