Magic Words by Gerald Kolpan
Two young men travel from Europe to America just after the end of the Civil War. Each intends to take an apprenticeship, one as a magician and one as a shopkeeper. The story of their successes and failures is the glue that binds this book together. The narrative charges wildly across continents and cultures as author Gerald Kolpan gives us characters filled with ambition, madness, and life.
While Alexander Herrmann becomes a celebrated magician, his cousin, Julius Meyer, has less luck. Instead of spending his life as a shopkeeper, he finds himself held captive in the wilderness. Soon, he becomes a translator for the chief of a small Indian tribe trying to survive in a time when the American Government seeks to eradicate them. From the prairie around Omaha to the stages of London theaters, the cousins make their way in the world using whatever tricks are at their disposal.
This is a historical adventure novel that gives you a preview of the excitement to come in the evocative subtitle: The Tale of a Jewish Boy-Interpreter, the Frontier's Most Estimable Magician, a Murderous Harlot, and America's Greatest Indian Chief.
If you don't like the post-Civil War era, maybe you'd prefer a similar story set around World War II? Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay tells the tale of another pair of Jewish cousins making their way in America. Joe Kavalier is sent from Prague to stay with his cousin in New York, thereby escaping the rise of the Nazis. The cousins discover a mutual love of drawing and break into the comic book industry. It's an excellently written book which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001.
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Review by Danny Hanbery