The Magi­cian’s Visit

Bar­bara Dia­mond Goldin, adapt­ed from a sto­ry by I. L. Peretz, Eva Sánchez Gómez(illus.)

  • Review
By – March 22, 2021

Yid­dish author I. L. Peretz’s Passover sto­ry of gen­eros­i­ty and faith, The Magi­cian, has been adapt­ed into sev­er­al pic­ture books over the years. Bar­bara Dia­mond Goldin, who has pre­vi­ous­ly adapt­ed the sto­ry, has a new ver­sion, The Magician’s Vis­it, illus­trat­ed this time by Eva Sánchez Gómez. The book more than jus­ti­fies updat­ing a clas­sic, offer­ing a dif­fer­ent visu­al inter­pre­ta­tion that com­bines the tan­gi­ble real­i­ties of Jew­ish life in the shtetls of East­ern Europe with deeply imag­ined sym­bol­ism express­ing time­less Jew­ish val­ues. While those val­ues are con­nect­ed to Passover, they are by no means unique to that hol­i­day, nor should this book be con­sid­ered exclu­sive­ly seasonal.

Goldin’s text intro­duces the dai­ly rou­tines of shtetl life as a back­ground for the excep­tion­al appear­ance of the magi­cian. The vil­lagers would have walked by any oth­er magi­cian, vio­lin play­er, or joke­ster. But they could not help notic­ing this one.” Sánchez Gómez’s del­i­cate col­or pen­cil draw­ings use a pre­dom­i­nate­ly blue pas­tel back­ground, with care­ful­ly cho­sen red tones adding dra­ma. The magi­cian wears a red coat and astounds the crowd by pulling yards and yards of fan­cy rib­bons,” also red, from his mouth.” The scene fore­shad­ows the way this appar­ent pur­vey­or of illu­sion will turn out to be telling the most pro­found truths. He embod­ies con­tra­dic­tions; too poor to pay the innkeep­er, he nonethe­less pro­duces rivers of gold coins” from his shoe. Most strange­ly, in this small and insu­lar town, the magi­cian claims a cos­mopoli­tan iden­ti­ty, if a vague one. Answer­ing ques­tions, he responds that he is from Paris, going to Lon­don, and that his means of trans­porta­tion has been wan­der­ing.”

The poor cou­ple at the cen­ter of the sto­ry, in this ver­sion named Rebec­ca and Jon­ah, are both emblem­at­ic of their com­mu­ni­ty and believ­ably dis­tinct indi­vid­u­als. They can­not afford the basic items to pre­pare a seder. Yet, even reduced to abject pover­ty, they still give char­i­ty to those even less for­tu­nate — Jon­ah being depict­ed as vital and strong, and Rebec­ca with the dig­ni­ty of a Renais­sance por­trait. When the wan­der­ing magi­cian arrives at their home, he uses his skills to change every­thing. The word seder” means order,” and through his mys­te­ri­ous pow­ers, the magi­cian trans­forms the couple’s emp­ty table into one set for the rit­u­al of Passover. He con­jures objects seem­ing­ly out of thin air, and each one lands unerr­ing­ly in its prop­er place. Can­dle­sticks emanate light even before they land on the table. The magi­cian gives ver­bal instruc­tions to ensure that chairs become lux­u­ri­ous enough to enable the mitz­vah of reclin­ing at the seder: Grow wider… Grow soft­er.” Unsure if the magician’s mag­ic is a mis­lead­ing illu­sion or a divine gift, the devout cou­ple vis­its their rab­bi. With his lux­u­ri­ant beard and thick­ly fold­ed robe that dwarfs his frame, he is the pic­ture of reli­gious author­i­ty, but Goldin empha­sizes the sim­ple prac­ti­cal­i­ty of his advice: If the matzah crum­bles and the wine flows, then Jon­ah and Rebec­ca are free to enjoy their seder. Log­i­cal­ly, the visitor’s skills may only be greater than those of the less impres­sive magi­cians who have become famil­iar in the town, but the rab­bi under­stands that this unlike­ly seder has been cre­at­ed by the Prophet Eli­jah him­self. Goldin’s words and Sánchez Gómez’s pic­tures make this clas­sic story’s cen­tral para­dox of faith in a moment of despair tan­gi­ble for children.

The Magician’s Vis­it is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed and includes ques­tions and answers for dis­cus­sion, as well as a glossary.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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