Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Magic Words: The Tale of a Jewish Boy-Interpreter, the Frontier's Most Estimable Magician, a Murderous Harlot, and America's Greatest Indian Chief” as Want to Read:
Magic Words: The Tale of a Jewish Boy-Interpreter, the Frontier's Most Estimable Magician, a Murderous Harlot, and America's Greatest Indian Chief
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Magic Words: The Tale of a Jewish Boy-Interpreter, the Frontier's Most Estimable Magician, a Murderous Harlot, and America's Greatest Indian Chief

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  115 ratings  ·  34 reviews
In a riveting novel of love and adventure, young Julius Meyer comes to the New World to find himself acting as translator for the famed Indian chief Standing BearYoung Jewish immigrant Julius comes of age surrounded by the wild world of 1867 Nebraska. He befriends the mysterious Prophet John, who saves his life when the two are captured by the Ponca Indian tribe. Living as ...more
ebook, 384 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Pegasus Books (first published April 1st 2012)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Magic Words, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Magic Words

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 228)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Lee Razer
Starts out terrifically with interesting historical based characters who promise an action packed engrossing read. Julius Meyer and his cousin Alexander are Jews leaving the Old World behind for the promise of the New. Alexander is a magician in training with his older brother, and will soon surpass him to become the world's most famous magician. Julius goes to the frontier to work in his brother's store but is kidnapped by the Ponca Indian tribe. Thanks to his amazing ability to quickly learn a ...more
Alice  Heiserman
Fun but difficult to follow novel with several themes. One theme involved Jewish immigrants to America who either owned stores or were magicians in the late 19th century. This was contrasted with American Indians who were treated worse than the Jewish merchants. One Jewish man who had a gift for languages was captured by the Poncha Indians and learned their language and became a member of their tribe falling in love with the daughter of the chief. During this strand, we learn about the forced mi ...more
This book is wonderful!! Dishes still in the sink, but I don't care. I had to finish it! Some parts are fiction, however most is based on true characters. Highly recommend
"Magic Words" appears to have everything I want in a good bedtime book: historical fiction, stage magicians, short chapters, and a decent premise. For the most part, it delivers. Kolpan's writing is easy to read. The plot line, however, is sometimes hard to follow. At one point, we are bouncing around at least three different narratives on separate continents without any idea of a time frame. Indeed, time seems incredibly amorphous, almost like watching Terry Gilliam's "Time Bandits." I would ha ...more
This book was by turns entertaining and frustrating. There are several characters in the book that were real, historical figures, and the fictional narrative is woven through their lives and around some true, historical events. These events take place in the late 1800's in America's wild west and Europe (England, mostly). The characters are memorable, including two Jewish immigrants with interesting vocations (a genius linguist and a talented magician), among several other interesting characters ...more
Karin Bartimole
I just loved this book!!
It takes place, primarily, in 1867 Nebraska, where the unrest between native people and early settlers is high, as is antisemitism.
The title says it all - we are introduced to Julius, the "jewish boy-interpreter" who has an unnatural talent and can learn new languages almost immediately, which helps him with the Indians he eventually becomes close with; and there's Alexander, his older cousin - the greatest magician in America, if not the "World's Most Estimable Magician
Right at the start, there is an amazing image of an indian on horseback wearing warpaint and feathers riding into a little midwestern town, and I felt transported and I was in awe. It's hard to write a positive review that conveys that a story is captivating and exciting (because a negative one can point out specific flaws), but this Was both of those things! The fact that the novel was also so well researched made it especially interesting and fun to read... maybe because the realistic details ...more
Two young men travel from Europe to America just after the end of the Civil War. Each intends to take an apprenticeship, one as a magician and one as a shopkeeper. The story of their successes and failures is the glue that binds this book together. The narrative charges wildly across continents and cultures as author Gerald Kolpan gives us characters filled with ambition, madness, and life.

While Alexander Herrmann does become a celebrated magician, it is this very success that could bring about
Ronald Fischman
I like reading important stories. I like reading well-written stories even more. I like to think I've written one, 3 Through History 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
This fascinating books looks at several lesser known historical figures and weaves them into an amazing tale of survival. Julius Meyer immigrated to the U.S. in 1839. With his amazing facility for languages, he learns six Native American dialects and cultivates friendships among the tribes. His brothers, Compars and Alexander, were well-known stage magicians. Life ebbs and flows around these three main characters, along with Standing Bear, a Ponca chief and a beautiful, but murderous prostitute. ...more
This was entertaining and it was fun to read about our country's history without a bunch of facts and dates, but rather with a slightly more engaging story line and colorful characters. While I didn't find this book to be a page turner, it was engaging and a fun read. As devastating as the history of the American Indian is, it was very interesting reading about how some of it transpired. It was also a blast to read about the life of the magician Alexander The Great and how he tantalized and scan ...more
Paula Hebert
based on true events and people, magic words follows jewish brothers, one a world famous magician, as they travel to america to seek their fortune. one brother, who has an amazing ability to learn languages and speak them without any accent, finds himself in the west, caught in the middle of the settleing of the country and the resistance of the indians. it's a really interesting book, with good historical references and good storytelling.
Thomas S
Very good. I had no idea until I made it to the epilogue that the main characters were real, historical figures! Two Jewish cousins come to America. One becomes a world-famous magician, another becomes an interpreter for a Plains Indian tribe. Sounds like the start of joke you might hear at a bar. Jews and Indians? Oy vey, kimosabe. Sounds far-fetched until you meditate on the similarities of tribes facing extinction.
I picked this up mainly because I loved Kolpan's first book Etta, though this story sounded interesting. While I do think Kolpan has a talent for breathing light into people that history has not always remembered, in this case there was simply too much going on. The book bounced around following so many loosely related characters that you got an exposure to history but didn't necessarily get emotionally attached.
Neilie J
Interesting. I'd never seen parallels between the way the Jews have historically been treated and the way the U.S. Government mistreated the native tribes but now that I have it's like, "Duh!" An interesting story with some compelling characters. I don't think this is a story that'll stick with me long term but I enjoyed it while it lasted.
I found this on the "librarians recommend" shelf at my favorite library. I'm now going to look for Kolpan's other novel. This one is historical fiction with great characters, stories, culture clashes, and an intersection of Jewish, Indian, Christian mysticism and religion. Some of the characters were stereotypes--but still seemed real.
I found this book fairly hard to get into and follow, especially for the first half. The second half picked up quite a bit and I enjoyed that a lot more.

It's a fictional, but historical tale, featuring great tales of magicians and Native American life around the turn of the century. A fun read.
Judy Porter
This is a crazy mix of western history and mistreatment of native americans. quirky characters, intrigue, romance and the world of magic. Based on historical events it involves 2 amazing men, one fighting for love and freedom,the other living for mystery and magic.
Really enjoyed reading this crazy tale. Lots of lovable and not so lovable characters,intrigue, magic, and murder with a dash of Yiddish thrown in to keep you on your toes. Even more impressive, is that its based (somewhat)on actual events.
I got this book for free at ALA, and thought it looked interesting from the cover art. Luckily the insides matched the outsides. A fun historical read about Jews, Native Americans and Magicians in the turn of the century Mid-West.
A potpourri of characters from the late 19th century, most of the main ones historical, with a few invented ones for spice. The title is quite descriptive of the story. Fast-moving, maybe slightly overcooked, but a tasty stew.
Jean Wentz
Loved this! Not the usual historical fiction I read, if there is such a thing. I learned a lot about the Ponca tribe. Didn't realize til the epilogue that most of the characters were real people.
I don't usually read stories of the Old West, but this story with its exploration of the oppression of Native Americans, the Jewish Diaspora,and the history of magicians and illusion was provocative.
Interesting characters and I'm a sucker for anything with magic but the plot lacked focus. The assorted narratives came together with a fizzle instead of a bang.
A very fun, high energy read. Takes place in 1872 in Omaha, Brooklyn and around Europe. The full title gives you an idea of what it's about.
Eric Sbar
A fun romp through the Wild West of Omaha with an unusual cast of characters. What makes this most interesting is that it is based on real people.
Even though this is based on actual historic characters, the mix of characters and plot seemed a little far fetched to me.
I liked this book even more after reading the epilogue and finding out which characters were actually real historical figures.
Very interesting concept to take real people and weave a semi factual story around them very readable.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • City of Ash
  • Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People
  • The Seance
  • Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini
  • Sun Going Down
  • Among the Wonderful: A Novel
  • Masada: Herod's Fortress and the Zealots' Last Stand
  • The Sacred River
  • Magic: 1400s–1950s
  • Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit
  • The Gentle Tamers: Women of the Old Wild West
  • New Found Land: Lewis and Clark's  Voyage of Discovery
  • Immortal Wife
  • A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Séances, Mediums, Ghosts, and Ghostbusters
  • The Magician's Wife
  • Snow Mountain Passage
  • Goldenland Past Dark
  • Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women
Etta Magic Words: The Tale of a Jewish Boy-Interpreter, the Frontier's Most Estimable Magician, a Murderous Harlot, and America's Greatest Indian Chief

Share This Book