The Magic of Us by Azila Talit Reisenberger

Book Review by Lindy Diamond

As a fan of the author in real life, and having witnessed first-hand the warmth, humour and goodness she infuses into marriage ceremonies, I was more than excited to spend a few hours in her mind, reading The Magic of Us; a book that explores the exquisite complexity of being human and subject to the whims of others in our quest for happiness and self-fulfillment.

The book starts with a hypothetical question that introduces us to the characters and gives us insight into who they are. Although there are many — spanning over a century of narrative — they have been written with enough attention to detail for the reader to have a vested interest in their well-being.

After this introduction, there are hints that something momentous is about to unfold, and I was not disappointed. Through casual dinner conversations, epic overseas explorations, and historical narrative, the author takes us on a huge adventure, at times suspending reality and stepping into the genre of Jewish historical fantasy; and we go along happily because of the infinitely likeable characters.

Just under the surface of this fictional tale lies acerbic criticism of the sometimes-cruel, always-challenging world of conversion to Judaism under the strict eye of the Beth Din and the male-dominated rabbinical leadership, as well as patriarchy in general. The author asks us to question; What is a Jew? Who is the ‘most’ Jewish? What does that even mean? What does a Jew look like?

In a country where we often wear orthodoxy as a birthright and not a way of life, the book raises questions that many who have not gone down the grueling road to conversion have never thought to ask. This story also makes you want to trace your great-great-grandparents back to the towns and cities you have heard of but never visited, to a world that in some ways shaped us, but no longer exists.

For many in our community, the stories are our stories, and details feel familiar, through our own family histories, or cellular level recall. The beautiful tradition of blessing children is mentioned throughout the book in different contexts and this continuation of tradition is a moving motif.

This easy-read is a sometimes pleasant, sometimes painful ride through family history, tragedy and relationships, woven together with the narrators’ (and author’s) sense of morality and humour.

• Published in the PDF edition of the July 2021 issue.

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