The Trick by Emanuel Bergmann (NetGalley Review)

The Trick by Emanuel Bergmann
Publisher: Atria Books - an imprint of Simon & Schuster (September 19, 2017)
Description from the publisher:
In 1934, a rabbi’s son in Prague joins a traveling circus, becomes a magician, and rises to fame under the stage name the Great Zabbatini just as Europe descends into World War II. When Zabbatini is discovered to be a Jew, his battered trunk full of magic tricks becomes his only hope of surviving the concentration camp where he is sent.

Seven decades later in Los Angeles, ten-year-old Max finds a scratched-up LP that captured Zabbatini performing his greatest tricks. But the track in which Zabbatini performs his love spell—the spell Max believes will keep his disintegrating family together—is damaged beyond repair. Desperate for a solution, Max seeks out the now elderly, cynical magician and begs him to perform his magic on his parents. As the two develop an unlikely friendship, Moshe discovers that Max and his family have a surprising connection to the dark, dark days the Great Zabbatini experienced during the war.

Recalling the melancholy humor of Isaac Bashevis Singer and the heartbreaking pathos of the film Life is Beautiful—this outstanding first novel is at once an irreverent yet deeply moving story about a young boy who believes in magic and a disillusioned old man who believes in nothing, as well as a gripping and heartfelt tale about the circle of life.

I normally limit myself to one or two World War II novels per year, so this description really got me! However, in this dual timeline narrative, the past is mainly centered around the time leading up to the war. You will not be thrust into the day to day of Auschwitz, plunked down in London during the blitz or thrown into Paris during the Vel' d'Hiv. It is not just a story about war, but about the reverberations of war, or any actions of our lives on the future.

Some of the actions of Moshe throughout his very complex life are quite despicable, but I couldn't help but find him an endearing, hilarious and heartbreaking character. Equally endearing is Max's story in the present day timeline, attempting to prevent his parents divorce by finding Moshe to perform the 'eternal love' trick. The juxtaposition of the young and 'magical thinking' boy, set against the curmudgeon-y old man is rife with moments of great humor and heart. There are many laugh out loud moments that balance out what could have been too saccharine on one hand, or horrific on the other. The final scenes from both narratives had my heart pounding for vastly different reasons. Bergmann must have children to convey with such hilarity and accuracy a visit to a thinly veiled version of Chuck E. Cheese, and the way he depicts Moshe/Zabbatini's performance of the eternal love spell there had me RIVETED. Then as I went back in time to Auschwitz to finally discover the plot connection to the present day, I was biting my nails in fear and hope.

If you enjoy dual timeline historical fiction, family drama, plot driven narratives, witty writing, I would highly recommend The Trick. It is also a perfect transition from super light summer reading, to something with a little more heft, but not too much. Many thanks to Atria Books and Netgalley for providing an advance copy for my honest review!