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The Magician's Assistant Paperback – 5 Aug 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; New Ed edition (5 Aug. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857028155
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857028157
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.4 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 93,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From the Back Cover

A magician (with one memorable appearance on the Johnny Carson Show to his credit) takes the name Parsifal. He is gay. He has a Vietnamese lover, Phan. When Phan dies of AIDS, Parsifal marries the woman who has always adored him and who has lived with them both, his assistant Sabine.

Then Parsifal himself dies in California, suddenly and shockingly, of an aneurysm. Parsifal always said that he had no living family and that he came from wealthy upscale Connecticut stock. The reality is very different, as Sabine learns from his lawyer. He came from a poor Nebraska family and they are very much alive. Indeed his mother and sister are on their way to California to meet Sabine, the daughter- and sister-in-law they know nothing about. It is bad that her husband has died. What Sabine must now cope with is coming to terms with his horrific past and the reason he divorced himself from his family and roots.

About the Author

Ann Patchett is originally from Los Angeles and is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of two earlier novels, The Patron Saint of Liars and Taft. She lives in Nashville and is the Tennessee Williams Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of the South.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

By S. Bailey VINE VOICE on 11 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
On one level, this is an incredibly simple book. Sabine has been the magician Parsifal's assistant for twenty years. After his death, she discovers a family she never knew he had, and they piece together the truth about the man.

Once we discover what some of that truth is, however, we begin to see a more complex situation. Parsifal was married to Sabine, but the two of them lived with Phan, Parsifal's gay, true lover. Guy, the boy his family knew, was instrumental the death of his father. And so it goes on: Sabine, Dot Fetters the mother and Kitty and Bertie the sisters, each adding to the picture and discovering new ways of looking at the man they had loved.

Criticism has been made of this book for its lack of plot, and if big plot is what you are looking for, you had better look elsewhere. This book is about character, about truth and the nature of love; you might think you were looking at an illusion, and then find that you were looking in a mirror instead. As any magician knows, the truth revealed has no impact until the illusion has been well set-up, but the set-up may be a slow and subtle process. That is what this book is about.

I want particularly to mention Patchett's perfect translation to the page of the too-large physicality and grunting non-verbal communication of Kitty's adolescent sons. Witty, literate adolescents are one thing to write, but these rather more realistic ones are a real achievement. Her writing goes beyond words.

Definitely recommended, and responsible, like I needed it, for adding another author to my "get everything she's ever written" list.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First I want to get something off my chest. When I selected this book the blurb advertising it suggested it was going to be a very diferent read to what it turned out to be. Ultimately I'm glad I got it but the original Amazon write-up made it seem like a fantasy novel. However even that original blurb would be preferable to the current Amazon write-up, which is a bit too spoilery for my tastes.

Sabine's long term showbusiness partner and sometime husband, Parsifal, has died, following almost on the heels of the death of Parsifal's true love, Phan, who happens to be a bloke. Sabine is left feeling empty and desolate in their LA home but is still faced with the task of tidying up Parsifal's financial matters. It's then that she discovers his family, who he claimed were dead, are in fact alive and well, living in Nebraska.

And that's about as much of the plot as I'm giving away because it's a delicate thing which is best left to unfold in its own time, like the blooming of a rare orchid.

All the sleight of hand and illusion allusions have been used up already but they hit the nail on the head. Part of the charm of this book is the way it leads you in one direction, making you think you have the measure of a character, then bam! you realise you were wrong all along. It's not overdone and there's more to it than just that. There's some very clever subtle writing throughout that left me thinking about certain passages long after I'd finished them. I actually had to leave it several days before writing this review because I was still getting scenes straight in my head.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to people who enjoy character driven fiction, though the focus here is primarily on Sabine herself with only a few of the other characters being fleshed out. I was left feeling that a couple of the people who're central to the story don't become fully rounded but that's such a little thing overall.
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By A Customer on 27 Aug. 2002
Format: Paperback
The less you know about the plot of this novel the better. Let the story unfold from page to page and I think you will be as enchanted as I was. The characters are so real and mostly likeable, and the settings, particularly Nebraska, are evocative. It also has some funny parts (especially the plane journey) and the details about magic are enthralling. Before I had even finished it I was wondering how soon I could read it again!
Readers who like Anne Tyler's books will also like this.
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Format: Paperback
I came to this book because I'd enjoyed Bel Canto so much, and was surprised by the back cover description which made it sound as though it was going to be almost a fantasy novel. I did keep on expecting the book to leap into high magic, and in a way it did. There's an element of the familiar in it - like Jane Smiley and Ann Tyler, documenting mid-west, mid-nowhere America, but she also plays some superb wild cards that do tip the balance out of reality for odd moments. There are strange dream-world insights and conversations, and there is a bit of the supernatural too, although this stays in the realm of card tricks that are REAL rather than tricks. All in all these add up to a captivating read and the effect is, yes, magical. The characters are stunningly realised, not a wooden or 2D one among them, but Simone Parsifal - the magician's assistant herself - is a stellar creation: guileless without being naive, traumatised without being schmaltzy, and vividly, vividly alive. I could go on - but simply, I am very, very impressed by this novel.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The novel begins with the death of Parsifal, the magician of the title, with his ‘assistant’ and wife, Sabine by his side. However, this was a marriage between a gay man and a woman who had adored him for the previous 22 years. Parsifal, who died of an aneurism but was already holding a warrant signed by death after being diagnosed with AIDS, wanted to give Sabine a financial as well as an emotional stability by marrying her after Parsifal’s Vietnamese lover Phan had died a short time before.
A few days after the funeral Parsifal’s lawyer informs Sabine that Parsifal had left a considerable amount of money to his mother and two sisters. Parsifal was wealthy and now so was Sabine so the money being left to Parsifal’s family was of no consequence to Sabine. But what was of consequence was that Sabine was not aware of Parsifal’s family as Parsifal had never talked about his family and had led Sabine to believe that they were dead.
Soon after, Parsifal’s family visit Los Angeles to not only meet Sabine but to visit Parsifal’s (or Guy as he was christened), grave and hopefully have Sabine show them some of Parsifal’s favourite places. During this time Parsifal’s mother, Dot Fetters, invites Sabine to visit her and her family in the small town of Alliance in Nebraska and to attend her daughter’s wedding. Sabine agrees and during the visit she discovers that though she had known and loved Parsifal for 22 years and believed she knew everything about him it soon transpires that Parsifal had failed to illuminate Sabine about his early life that would define who he would become as a man.
I am going to write up front that this a delightful book that injects one with feelings of joy.
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