Magic isn’t real. Or is it? Not the stage illusions, such as cutting a woman in half, or mentalist feats where the performer appears to know what you’re thinking — those tricks are explainable. But love is magic, and miracles can happen.
In the early days of the 20th century in Prague, Rabbi Laibl Goldenhirsch and his wife, Rifka, desperately long for a child, but their efforts are to no avail. Then Laibl gets called to war. When he returns, Rifka is pregnant suspiciously soon. “It’s a miracle,” she says. “Immaculate conception.” Because the rabbi loves his wife, and because they want the child so much, he accepts her words. Also, he has secrets of his own. But little Moshe is a gift and he is loved.
A century later, in Los Angeles, Max Cohn is looking forward to his eleventh birthday, when his parents announce that they’re getting divorced. A few weeks earlier, when his father made him clean out his bunny’s cage instead of letting him go to the movies, Max wished him gone. So now, Max blames himself for the divorce. He has to make it right. He finds an old record labeled: ZABBATINI: HIS GREATEST TRICKS. When he plays the record, the Love Spell is damaged. Max resolves to find this Zabbatini and have him perform the spell to reunite his parents.
Back in Prague, Moshe grows up. One day, a neighbor takes him to the circus. The boy is entranced by the experience and awed by the magician’s pretty assistant. A few weeks later, Moshe runs away to join the circus, where he gains a new name: The Great Zabbatini.
The Trick proceeds with these dual storylines. Max follows a lead to Zabbatini and plans a surprise for his birthday party. Moshe’s talents and career grow against the backdrop of increasing anti-Semitism. Neighbors are your friends until they aren’t. Villagers accept money to keep secrets until there’s no more money and they get paid elsewhere. In a chapter called “Scheherazade’s Last Tale,” Zabbatini performs a new trick every night for the camp commandant until he finally gets bored and throws Moshe in with the rest of the prisoners.
Emanuel Bergman has written a beautiful, haunting tale of love, betrayal, and redemption. This carefully constructed and brilliantly imagined story is one of subtle charm — the reader hardly realizes how much they’ve learned until the end. The Trick begins with a miracle and ends with one, too.