Rated Reads

The Trick

by Emanuel Bergmann

Rated: Moderate

Max Cohn is 10 years old, and his parents have just told him they’re getting a divorce. He’s heard about the drill from a friend at his school in Los Angeles: They’ll take him to a restaurant he likes to break the news. He figures it’ll be fun for a while, with his parents vying to do nicer things for him, but pretty soon he’s just not happy with the new reality. So when his dad is going through some boxes to move and Max sees an old record from the ’70s with a magician sharing his “greatest tricks,” including one for love, he decides to use the love spell to reunite his parents. Unfortunately, when he plays the record, there’s a scratch and he can’t hear the spell. So Max does the only thing he can do: He decides to track down this “Great Zabbatini” and get the spell.

Moshe Goldenhirsch was born in Prague to a poor rabbi and his wife soon after the end of World War I. Moshe lost his mother when he was young and didn’t enjoy much of his upbringing with his despondent and books-focused father. But when he was 15, he was taken to a circus by a neighbor and transported by the magic of “the Half-Moon Man.” When he met the magician’s beautiful assistant, Moshe fell in love and decided to run away with the circus. Eventually, he became “the Great Zabbatini.”

The stories of Max and Moshe alternate and intertwine in The Trick. The later-in-life Moshe is old and living in a retirement home in Los Angeles and tired of it all. His decade or two of success is long past, and his bank account is empty. The determined Max finds him and, through a series of events, manages to get him to his house, where he is sure he can save his parents’ marriage.

Readers learn about Moshe’s experiences in pre-World War II Germany, where he hides his identity as a Jew for as long as possible. But he ends up in a concentration camp, where his beat-up trunk of magic tricks actually proves useful.

The interaction between Max and Moshe is the heart of this book. In the wrong hands, the “determined boy and world-weary old man” trope could be trite, but here it’s utterly charming. The viewpoint of the 10-year-old Max is amusing and sweet, and his valiant attempts to reunite his parents are entertaining even as the reader — as an adult — knows, sadly, that life isn’t that simple. Moshe’s background is vital to the story, in large part because it’s the necessary yin to Max’s yang. The story doesn’t spend too much time in the concentration camp, for instance; the scenes there are just enough to remind readers of the horror of those places before the story moves along. It is also just enough to pull in a satisfying and poignant end to the book that brings meaning to the lives of the people in the story. Overall, this book is a gratifying read because of the relationship of the two protagonists.

Rated: Moderate. There are five or six uses of strong language and some instances of mild and moderate language. Sexual references include some crude terms and a few scenes that have little detail. There’s an understanding two male characters are carrying on a relationship. Violence is fairly limited.

*I received an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • The Trick
  • by Emanuel Bergmann
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: