The Magician of Lublin, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Noonday Press, 1960, 243 pp
Yasha Mazur, magician, lover, free spirit in prewar Poland, "could never understand how other people managed to live in one place and spend their entire lives with one woman without becoming melancholy." He had a dutiful and loving Jewish wife in his hometown, but most of the year he traveled the country. A woman in every town, a young female assistant for his act, an industrious agent, all assure Yasha money, variety and freedom from melancholy.
He could open any lock, escape from any enclosure, walk a high wire. His master plan was to escape Poland by converting to Catholicism and marrying one of his lovers. They would move to Italy and he would perform in the capitals of Europe amassing riches and fame.
Singer makes you admire this fellow with his carefree outlook, his allegiance to no particular God, woman, or country. Yasha reminded me a bit of Franz Liszt, the first world famous, touring musician.
But like Liszt, his wanderlust masked the deep melancholy and fractured conscience that was Yasha's true character causing a life of indecision, worry, and depression. The Magician of Lublin is a moral tale about the consequences of rejecting the faith of one's family and the country of one's origin. Or it could be seen as a creative example of the human condition.
Oh the writing! So evocative of location and times. So perceptive with regard to the protagonist, his friends, and the women. It is as if the entire story walks a tightrope and when the inevitable fall comes, everyone falls with this energetic, lovable, inspiring freedom seeker into the pit of darkness and retribution.
(The Magician of Lublin is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)