Review: 'Magic Words' by Gerald Kolpan

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central Library

Review: 'Magic Words' by Gerald Kolpan

Gerald Kolpan writes Cover of 'Magic Words'in the seasoned language of a long-time reporter, and this gives his fiction both legitimacy and believability, which works to his advantage when his characters wind up in somewhat unbelievable situations. In his second novel, Magic Words, he blends the fantastic nature of early stage magicians with the gritty realities of the American west in the 1860s and 70s.

Kolpan chose historical characters as the basis for this novel.  The author bases his Jewish boy-interpreter, Julius Meyer, on the real “speaker” of the same name who interpreted for various Native American chiefs during the time.  Likewise, both magicians Compars and Alexander Hermann, while made larger-than-life by Kolpan, were extremely popular magicians, in Europe and the Americas.

The story centers on Julius and Alexander’s immigration to America, and the very different paths that their lives take after arriving.  While Alexander achieves great success and all the riches that go along with it, Julius transforms in a more spiritual way, and, as such, becomes more legendary and more important than his famous cousin.

Kolpan’s novel manages to achieve a pace and urgency often missing from other “historical fiction,” and it is hard to put the book down, as one is eager to find out what happens next, regardless of whether the outcome is good or bad.  After finishing the book, one feels both enlightened and a little sad that the journey is over.  For now, we will all have to settle for the fact that Kolpan’s first novel, Etta, is also on our library shelves; and as the author states in the acknowledgements, “I’m writing another one, kids. Get ready.”