cover image Net of Magic: Wonders and Deceptions in India

Net of Magic: Wonders and Deceptions in India

Lee Siegel. University of Chicago Press, $69 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-226-75686-8

Siegel, a professor of religion at the University of Hawaii and an amateur magician, explores magic in India, a place that is for him a ``cauldron of illusions.'' He enters the magicians' world by eating with them, performing his own tricks for them and ultimately shilling for them. The first half of the book is devoted to the wandering, low-caste Muslim street magicians. The second discusses stage magicians, descendents of royal court conjurers and seers. Siegel blends history and religious studies, fiction (in the form of short stories centered on traditional tricks in the magicians' repertoire) and travel ramble as he takes us from the slums of Delhi to Madras in the south and Kashmir in the north. For Siegel, India is a country of many nationalities where religion divides and magic is the unifying factor. Using vivid word pictures, he conveys the sights, sounds and smells of a land where truth transcends mere fact, where illusions serve as ``escapes from the discomforts'' of life. Siegel's ( Laughing Matters: Comic Tradition in India ) colorful narrative about our need to be deceived and the delight we take therein avoids the pitfall he finds in many books on magic--what is astonishing when seen becomes astonishingly dull in print. (July)