What I really enjoyed about this book was that it showed a cheerful aspect inside a miserable situation. Barred inside the wall of a concentration camp, the author shows us there were moments of happiness. I also enjoyed how the author revealed the identity of Nivelli, the famous magician, inside the story. A prisoner inside Auschwitz, he was a surprise to his fellow inmates and he remained humble as the guards cheered him on. He had an amazing gift; he could entertain and astonish his superiors. He did not take advantage of his situation; he was modest although he was now facing some horrific conditions. A once famous individual performing in packed businesses around Berlin and now a prisoner in Auschwitz dressed in gray, acting no different than anyone else. The more I thought about this and how the author wrote this novel, I wondered if perhaps a different title might have been more appropriate. The author told me to expect a magician in the title, imagine my surprise had I not known that Nivelli was a magician and the title had just stated the Magic of Auschwitz or the Magic That Occurred at Auschwitz. This magic could be anything. I wondered if this children’s book would be more exciting had I not know a magician was going to appear. It was just a thought I had as I finished reading this wonderful story.
I enjoyed most of the illustrations inside this book. There was something about the faces that the illustrator drew that captured my attention. As I stared at them, they appeared hollow and lost as if I could glimpse into their empty minds. Their thin black eyes were searching for something, reaching out for the tiniest thing. The colors selected for the illustrations were perfect and the contrasting colors of the prison grays and the Nazi brown were fantastic.
There was a terrific bond between the two main characters. Werner is a small boy who knows he must stay strong to survive inside the prison walls. Levin seems soft to Werner but Werner respects him because he is older. Being bunkmates, a relationship begins and they look out for each other. Awaken in the dark of night, six guards call out to Levin. They tell him to perform. Giving him a deck of playing cards, he amazes the soldiers, performing magic tricks while other prisoners watch from their bunks. Abruptly the show is over and he is ordered back to bed. Levin falls immediately to sleep while Werner lies there amazed. I enjoyed this section of the story. Werner reaction of being stunned by his friend’s talent and wanting to know more and Levin, falling asleep, total opposite but it left me smiling. Levin does not see this as leverage but Werner is confused at what he sees. This is one of many shows that he performs. His talent extends to other objects as the soldiers stand by and watch. His attitude and his strength come through in the illustrations and in the text as the author delivers his story. The ending was too abrupt for my liking, I thought it was rushed and I would have liked a more finished ending. In the back pages of the book the author provides a wonderful account of Where It Happened and How It Happened with photographs and historical account of the individuals included in the story. I found this section very informative and interesting.
Thank you NetGalley and Second Story Press for providing me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest opinion.