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The fiftieth anniversary of a lost classic a deceptively sophisticated tale of sexual compulsion and one man's flight from love
Yasha Mazur is a Houdini-like performer whose skill has made him famous throughout eastern Poland. Half Jewish, half Gentile, a freethinker who slips easily between worlds, Yasha has an observant Jewish wife, a Gentile assistant who travels with him, and a mistress in every town. For Yasha is an escape artist not only onstage but in life, a man who lives under the spell of his own hypnotic effect on women. Now, though, his exploits are catching up with him, and he is tempted to make one final escape from his wife and his homeland and the last tendrils of his father's religion.
Set in Warsaw and the shtetls of the 1870s but first published in 1960 Isaac Bashevis Singer's second novel hides a haunting psychological portrait inside a beguiling parable. At its heart, this is a book about the burden of sexual freedom. As such, it belongs on a small shelf with such mid-century classics as Rabbit, Run; The Adventures of Augie March; and The Moviegoer. As Milton Hindus wrote in The New York Times Book Review, "The pathos of the ending may move the reader to tears, but they are not sentimental tears . . . Singer] is a writer of far greater than ordinary powers."
“Though The Magician of Lublin has major philosophical underpinnings, Singer excels at moving the story along like a compulsively readable thriller. Blessed with the gift of creating worlds, his narratives invariably feel not like they’ve been written but as if they are happening in front of our eyes. Part of this gift is Singer’s facility for vivid characters. Whether it be minor bystanders who appear for a moment or major players like the brazen blond pimp Herman, ‘a giant who knows himself invincible,’ Singer never fails to conjure up people who get up off the page and walk around. Being a modern can be a sometime thing, but great writing engages and endures.” —Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Singer, far from being gentle and grandfatherly, was as shockingly modern a writer as Dostoevsky. He is a chronicler of spiritual disintegration, exploring the devastating effects of appetite and passion—even of thought itself—on souls unprotected by faith . . . The dark power of The Magician of Lublin is nowhere clearer than in its concluding message—that, for a modern man, to return to God may require a decision as violent and frightening as any crime.”—Adam Kirsch, Tablet
“Singer’s minute particulars, at which he is a master, invariably are Eastern European Jewish. His eye for detail is manifest throughout The Magician of Lublin.” —Harold Bloom, The New York Review of Books
“[Singer] is a spellbinder as clever as Scheherazade; he arrests the reader at once, transports him to a far place and a far, improbable time and does not let him go until the end.” —Jean Stafford, The New Republic
“A peerless storyteller, Singer restores the sheer enchantment with story, with outcome, with what-happens-next that has been denied most readers since their adolescence.”—David Boroff, Saturday Review
“Singer is a genius. He has total command of his imagined world.” —Irving Howe, The New Republic