Canadian author Stephen Galloway takes a magical tack in his follow-up to his poignant debut, The Cellist of Sarajevo. The Confabulist is the story of an ordinary man, Martin Strauss, who in his waning years feels compelled to tell the truth about his connection to Harry Houdini, the most famous magician of all time. As Martin recalls it in the prologue, he didn't just kill Houdini—he killed him twice. But how? That question keeps the reader turning the pages as the fascinating world of magic and spiritualism that took center stage around the turn of the 20th century unfolds.
Unless the magician has actual supernatural powers, unless what he does alters the workings of the known universe, then all we witness is a man pretending to be a magician. Everything else is an illusion.
This is what has always captivated me about magic—the idea that we can create something that seems both real and impossible. That we could be two things at once without fully knowing which is material and which is reflection.
What are you reading this week?
As part of our Best Books of 2013 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
Helene Wecker's first novel announces the arrival of a formidable imagination. The Golem and the Jinni expertly blends Jewish and Arabic folklore against the vivid backdrop of 1899 New York City, where her title characters—golem Chava and jinni Ahmed—meet. Chava and Ahmed at first clash due to their opposite natures, but are drawn to one another by their shared experience as supernatural beings in a city of humans—not to mention their shared experience of being at the beck and call of various "masters." It soon becomes clear that combining their powers is the only chance for freedom . . . and perhaps even for survival.
Suspenseful, creative and entertaining, this book should delight fans of both fantasy and historical fiction. (And one of the best debuts of 2013!) Don't miss it.
Watch for our full list next week!
We readers know the power a story can hold—the way that someone's imagination can transform our lives, if only for a little while. One of 2012's most anticipated debut novels, No One Is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel (Riverhead), makes that concept literal when a small Romanian village avoids World War II by imagining it away, only to discover that the real world can't be held at bay forever.
On the New Yorker's blog, Ausubel describes the book this way:
The book is about a young girl, but it’s also about her whole village. At novel’s opening, the residents acknowledge their own place in history and a war, and the menace that is imminent. To keep out the inevitable and to protect themselves, the villagers decide to begin their world again. Destiny unwritten. Time and history forgotten. Jobs, husbands, a child, are reassigned. There is boundless hope.
Still, the real world continues to unfold alongside the imagined one, and, eventually, overtakes it. The new world becomes its own prison. And the narrator must escape and flee her village, move from one world to the next, to find her husband and save her children from a clear, terrible fate. To move them toward an infinite future.