Gerald Kolpan

Magic Words

The tale of a Jewish boy-interpreter, the world's most estimable magician, a murderous harlot, and America's greatest indian chief

by gerald-kolpan Read about him

Amazon readers give MAGIC WORDS 4 1/2 stars!

5 out of 5 stars! The Bookschlepper Recommends, May 31, 2012
By Jean Sue Libkind “bookschlepper” (Philadelphia)

I loved Kolpan’s earlier book, ETTA: A Novel (the woman with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). He tells a rollicking story. I would have found this one too rollicking to be believed except that it is based on a true story. Two Eastern European Jews immigrate to Philadelphia. One follows his brother in to the field of magic and both become American and European sensations. Their tricks would amaze and baffle modern audiences. The other goes to Omaha. Kidnapped by the Ponca tribe, he will use his singular ability to learn languages and dialects to become the chief’s son and to mingle with European hoi polloi. Kolpan does not romanticize the warts and dangers of the post-Civil War West. He makes it matter by involving us in the lives of the characters. The massacre at Chadron Nebraska (where my family had a ranch) was a crucial turning point in the treatment of Native Americans. Now that cowboys are coming back in to cinematic fashion, this is a perfect summer read.
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5 out of 5 stars! History and fiction in fine form, May 18, 2012
By Isabel Miller

This is a great read: a nuanced mix of excitement and history. The novel approaches a cultural intersection often overlooked or given a cursory glance by mainstream accounts, and paints it in fascinating detail. I’m always pleased to see a work of historical fiction transcend genre and add human gravity to past events. Kolpan manages his story with remarkable energy and finesse. I definitely recommend.

5 out of 5 stars! Magic Words, June 5, 2012
By Lawrence Finkel

This review is from: Magic Words: The Tale of a Jewish Boy-Interpreter, the World’s Most Estimable Magician, a Murderous Harlot, and America’s Greatest Indian Chief (Hardcover)
Once again Gerald Kolpan has woven fact and fiction into an intricate tapestry of life in the old west. Using historical facts and figures, Kolpan has managed to depict the changes brought to the west by the encroaching European settlers and traders. Magic Words draws a vivid picture contrasting the destruction of the native way of life with the opportunities experienecd by the Jewish and gentile immigrants arriving to begin a new life. Hope versus despair, humor alongside pathos. Kolpan has managed to use an extraordinary skill at character development to populate an underconsidered segment of American history. Magic words is a great read, you’ll have a hard time putting it down.

5 out of 5 stars! Mystery? Check. Western? Check. Jewish? Check. Magic? Check and Mate., December 13, 2012
By Ronald Fischman “3 Through History” (Philadelphia, PA) – See all my reviews

I like reading important stories. I like reading well-written stories even more. When both needs are satisfied in one reading experience, I like to make it clear to as many people as possible that I have found a gem, a book that will live with the reader as a work of art and as a collection of memorable scenes and unforgettable characters.

Such a book it Magic Words, a meticulously researched historical novel by Gerald Kolpan (2012, Pegasus). The title is a complex play on words. By themselves, the magic refers to two magicians, an older and a much younger brother, who both used the same stage name and between whom there was bad blood boiling, both personal and professional, that extended to affairs of heart and bed, finally resulting in the murder that opens and closes the book. The “words” belonged to the protagonist and major character, Julius Meyer, whose rare gift for languages earned him the title of Speaker of the Ponca Indians, that tribe that was decimated in the Trail of Tears exile. As a phrase, the title captures the power that words, language, and books have always had for Jews, and when this particular Jew, Julius, finds the Ponca, the phrase is transformed into a kind of prayer.

Kolpan sets himself a prodigious task. The mystery of the murder at the beginning is only solved at the end, and then in such a way that the reader is almost banging the book against the nightstand, demanding that three new questions be answered. So if this were a mere whodunit, it would stand up well. If it were the improbable story of the intrigue between two brothers, several assistants, and other figures of nineteenth-century hocus-pocus and illusion, the reader would be well-rewarded. But this narration informs us of a timeless revelation into what it means to be Jewish, discovered only by Julius One-Tongue Meyer after years of living at once an “egg-eater” and a Ponca: “Sometimes, I imagine the Ponca are this tribe that was lost to me all that time ago – my people returned from wandering,” Julius tells his betrothed. Our wandering brings us closer to ourselves, if only we can recognize the lost tribesman from whom we were separated, literally or figuratively, so long ago.

5 out of 5 stars! “Magic Words” is right!, May 15, 2012
By grinnelephant

I got this book as a birthday gift from an awkward acquaintance and I really wasn’t expecting to actually read, much less like it. But Magic Words is surprisingly good! Really well-developed characters and a lot more excitement than I bargained for. New twist on the well-know Old West story. I recommend it!

5.0 out of 5 stars! neighbas4eva, May 15, 2012
By Hannah Shepherd (Tulsa, OK, US)

I’ve never been much of a reader, but I really enjoyed reading this! An interesting and informative novel with great characters–I will definitely recommend it to friends!

4 out of 5 stars! A magical book of period history
, September 2, 2013
By 1gudriter “1gudriter” (Chicago, IL)

As a fellow writer, this is a book I wish I’d written. The story…based on real individuals and a number of actual events…is a fascinating one if you like reading about a Jewish historical protagonist, magicians (also Jewish, as it turns out), Indians (not Jewish, but nobody’s perfect) and a whore (beliefs unknown). He employs enough fiction to bring these disparate characters together, then weaves in a few fictional characters as well to make the story move smoothly and with nary a dull moment. The biggest flaw in otherwise solid writing is that the author gives dialog to several of the Indians who use expressions and idioms unheard of in the 19th century…expressions that are used today, but had no meaning for people, especially Indians, a hundred years ago. That aside, the book is thoroughly engrossing and fun to read. I recommend it highly. Kudos to Kolpan for uncovering and bringing to life these fascinating characters who, until now, have been little known among the colorful figures of American history.

5 out of 5 stars! Magic Words Indeed!, April 10, 2013
By whaty0usee –

Just when you thought you’d read every possible take and twist on the Old West, comes Gerald Kolpan’s finely crafted vessel. Jews, as the “Other” in American society in the 1800s, had some very interesting interchanges with the Indians (see Jews Among the Indians, by ML Marks).

Kolpan has taken one Julius Meyer, arguably the most fascinating of the pack, and brought him alive in full color. This is historical fiction at its finest. A German Jew who fluently spoke at least 6 Indian languages, and was seen in photos with the likes of Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, and Standing Bear! Here is a man I want to know more about. And that is exactly what Kolpan delivers. Poignant and powerful, you won’t regret this one.

4 out of 5 stars! A Jewish Indian in a Magical Family, March 5, 2013
By BK “Cleo” (Chicago, Illinois)

Family ties, seemingly loving, are often dangerous and negative. Yet, they work! Or do they? A fast moving story with almost too many characters within a hostile setting with touches of magic challenges the reader to keep their wits about them as they go from from Europe to America and back again. Murder, anti-semitism, human dignity, and sex crosses borders of human decency within a mystery set within a specific time and place that not many people know or care about.

5 out of 5 stars! Magic Words was truly magic, February 5, 2013
By Linda Nicholls –

It made a wonderful reading getaway. Enjoyed every page.
I found the title to be such a tease I had to order the book.

5 out of 5 stars! Thoroughly entertaining!, November 12, 2012
By Barbara Bittner (Omaha, NE) –

I chose Magic Words because it’s set in Omaha, where I live. Frankly, you just don’t see that many books set in this area, and I’m always curious about the ones that are. The book didn’t disappoint–it was thoroughly entertaining, taught me a lot about the history of the place I grew up, and made me want to learn more about the people about whom Kolpan writes. You don’t have to be from Omaha to enjoy the book–you just have to love rollicking adventure tales and enjoy learning about places that have long since vanished. The Wild West is gone now, but Kolpan’s writing brings it to vivid life. Highly recommended!

4 out of 5 stars! Magical Tale of Deception, Betrayal, and Revenge, October 1, 2012
By E. Rothstein “erothstein” (STUDIO CITY, CA USA) –

I read Kolpan’s debut novel Etta a few years back, and it still one of my favorite books of all time. So, it was with great anticipation that I dove into his latest offering, Magic Words. I am happy to report that the promise of Kolpan’s work in Etta is more than fulfilled in Magic Words. Kolpan’s fluid, engaging writing is put to beautiful use here in this sweeping tale of post-Civil War expansion in the West, told primarily through the eyes of two Jewish immigrants – one with a flair for language, the other with a talent for magic. As with Etta, Kolpan weaves the threads of history and invention together with artful aplomb so you are never sure what really happened, or what should have been. In a lesser writer’s hands, this combination of elements would likely fail, but Kolpan’s talents are more than up to the task. Magic Words covers the immigrant influx into Manhattan and Philadelphia, the brash saloons of the West, and the theatrical emporiums of Europe where magic was the height of fashionable entertainment, and magicians the superstars of the day, with fascinating detail, and unforgettable characters. Read it!

5 out of 5 stars! wild ride in the Wild West, May 18, 2012
By Deborah Stang (Boston, MA USA) –

It’s hard to believe that an immigrant from the Old World could become an interpreter for famed Indian Chief Standing Bear,yet that’s the nugget of fact in this wildly enjoyable historical novel. Be prepared to ride and roll as our boychik follows famed magicians, conspiring hookers and the Army as they blaze their way across the American West. A thoroughly enjoyable ride!

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