This article in Tablet about the reissue of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel The Magician of Lublin made me dip back into my memory to figure out whether I read the book or saw the movie first. It might have been the film first, with Alan Arkin playing the restless magician Yasha Mazur. Either way, the story had a profound effect on me, on how I view possibilities and limits in life, and the book remains one of my favorites.
If my history with The Magician of Lublin were a current question, I could enter a few keywords and perhaps draw from the cloud the dates I read the book and saw the movie.
Search is one of the greatest inventions of our time, a bit of magic compared to the alternative: going through boxes from decades ago to see if I saved the ticket stub from the movie and, by chance, wrote the date on it. Tedium.
Lacking facts, I’m free to remember the story of my discovery of Singer’s world of the damned and the doomed as I think it happened or, failing that, as I wanted it to happen.
The reissue of the novel comes at the 50th anniversary of its original printing. In his Tablet article, Adam Kirsch notes the plot of The Magician of Lublin “is one that must have resonated personally for Singer, since it is substantially the same as those of Enemies: A Love Story and Shadows on the Hudson: A man suffers a spiritual crisis as he juggles love affairs with three different women.”
This is a much more insightful and certainly more subtle description of what I’ve always thought of the story: A depressed Jewish magician sleeps with three women at once and remains depressed.