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Sorcerer's Apprentice

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  749 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
As a child, Tahir Shah first learned the secrets of illusion from an Indian magician. Two decades later, he sets out in search of this man. "Sorcerer's Apprentice" is the story of his apprenticeship to one of India's master conjurors and his initiation into the brotherhood of godmen. Learning to unmask illusion as well as practice it, he goes on a journey across the subcon ...more
Hardcover, 323 pages
Published June 18th 2001 by Arcade Publishing (first published January 1st 1998)
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Feb 13, 2008 Elissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all readers - reads just like fiction!
Ah, a juicy combination of Indian travelogue, cultural commentary, coming-of-age memoir and chemical cookbook. If you need to know how to fake not having a pulse with a walnut in your armpit, this is the book for you.

Interested in the relationship between spirituality, mysticism and stage magic?

Want to taste and smell dawn in Calcutta?

The writing is akin to Gerald Durrell's zoo collecting memoirs of the 1960s - a vast vocabulary at the service of precise detail and an enthralling true account of
Nov 27, 2011 Liz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that gives me intense wanderlust. Tahir Shah is either a man with an incredible knack for stumbling across the bizarre, a fabulous liar, or some combination of the two. His story is absolutely outlandish, and sometimes I wondered if he was playing tricks on me just as the Indian godmen he visits perform illusions for rapt audiences. Several of the events in the book are just too coincidental, too good to be true. But in the end, I don't even care—his performance was so ...more
Jun 19, 2017 Jessaka rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, india
"What's in the bottle? It looks empty to me."
"There's nothing in the bottle...just air. It's the yogi's last breath."

How many of these gurus have died just to have their closest disciples gather up everything they owned, their shoes, their bowl, their robes, their fancy cars, and then call them all holy? All religions do this or would if they could. Maybe it is like catching a baseball at the Super bowl and keeping it, or having Keith Urban's jacket, but at least these things are not considered
Apr 09, 2013 Toni rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Re-written review date approx August 11th. 2013.

What a book, even the commas are interesting. A burn the midnight oil book. Things are not what they seem in this extraordinary narrative. It is an inveigling 'wunderbar' book.

'Tahir Shah has a genius for surreal travelling..... I do most heartily recommend this book.'
That is what Doris Lessing said..
It is written on the dust cover of my 1998 hard cover edition.

'Feroze was renowned as a magician, but his skills extended beyond the realm of illu
I love books about India, books about travel and books about magic, so this was a real treat. An absolutely splendid adventure with plenty of humour mixed in.
Tessa Campbell
I have read and have thoroughly enjoyed all of Shah's works. He comes from an elite British family of Afghan royalty. His parents wanted him to follow family tradition and pursue a noble profession. Instead Tahir opted for a free-spirited life of travel, anthropology and writing. His travel ideas are spontaneous andand the people that he meets along the way are serendipitous. In Sorcerer's Apprentice he travels throughout India in search of India's infamous illusionist. He writes about his magic ...more
Wendy Bousfield
In his tenacious quest to become a master illusionist, Shah travels through India’s dark underbelly. Fantastically ingenious con men, skilled in misdirection and slight-of-hand, abound in India. Observing and reporting on India’s scam artists and “godmen” (frequently one and the same), Shah tells hilarious anecdotes, often at his own expense. The Tahir narrating Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a kind of Candide—naïve, exuberant, impervious to physical discomfort, boundlessly curious, obsessively carryi ...more
Peter Upton
Nov 02, 2016 Peter Upton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
For a really great Review of this book go and read Jessaca's ! I am not going to try to compete with that. But I have a couple of points to add.
First to just briefly summarize; This is a brilliant book in which Tahir Shah is taken on and trained by what must be one of India's greatest Illusionists and then travels from Calcutta to Bombay observing India's godmen and explaining how they use illusions and trickery, rather than anything mystical, to impress the crowds of their powers, to win follo
Apr 01, 2012 Holly rated it it was amazing
This book is a must read: a highly entertaining journey that can't be put down. I read it in about three days, staying up late at night to finish a chapter and then continuing onto the next one. If I hadn't had work to do, I would have read it in one sitting.

I don't know what the negative reviewers were expecting, but this book seems to have something for everyone: travel, humor, revelation of secrets of the trade. In a video on his YouTube channel, the author insists that the book is 100% true
Sep 17, 2015 James rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A genial baron Von munchausen type with a taste for the bizarre should be fun but isn't.
Arun Divakar
Mar 29, 2016 Arun Divakar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you ever plan to take a long trip through India, always go for a train provided you have the time, patience and fortitude for it. If you are an adventurous soul then always go for a non-AC sleeper option and it will be an incredibly rewarding experience in terms of the things you see and the people you meet. Of special interest to the traveler would be who come to sell their wares which range from ball pins to mobile batteries, the performers who sing and dance or perform magic tricks for a ...more
Sep 04, 2015 Julián rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: viajes, india
El subtítulo de este libro reza: Viaje a la India mágica. Y de eso precisamente se trata, de un viaje a la India de los magos, adivinadores, santones, gurús, milagreros, la India de los fenómenos y manifestaciones sin explicación aparente. Un viaje de “observación” en busca de las supercherías y de los trucos de hombres santos e ilusionistas para dejar al desnudo ante el lector todos esos engaños. Por eso no se comprende la cita del Sunday Times que lleva en la portada: “Como la propia India, im ...more
Rheetha Lawlor
This is a great book. I can tell because the other reviews are either love it or hate it. I am the weird one in that I wasn't in love with the book of journeys to find out the culture of illusion in India, but it was interesting and I chuckled a couple of times. I like the way Tahir Shah writes in a somewhat humorous self-debasing sort of way. And I was intrigued to find out how the "Godmen" (isn't that an oxymoron?) were able to do their tricks. And, I was impressed with the way Tahir Shah desc ...more
Jun 08, 2014 Rob rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india-fiction
This book had a lot of promise...which it did not live up to.

Author Tahir Shah goes on a quest to learn the "secrets of Illusion" from a master of illusion. He submits himself to all sorts of tasks that he should be learning from as assigned by the master.

He eventually is assigned the task of traveling through out India to observe. Observe what? Along the way he picks up a side-kick who helps pave the way for him. Never mind the sidekick is a young thief and liar.

After all his so-called adventur
Jul 08, 2013 Tereneh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Picked up the day before getting on a plane to India. Reading it while riding the train between Delhi and Jodhpur and Jophpur to Jaipur - it may have colored my opinion of what I saw and what I read. Though the writing is at times a bit uneven, overall it is one man's very interesting story. Much of it is true, or all of it? It does not even matter. The cynicism does not take any of the mystery and magic away from the story or from India. It makes it all the more so. A great read.
Feb 18, 2008 Natalie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amaizingly interesting, humorous and sad at the same time, astounding and shocking. Yes, this is India, and Tahir with ease let you smell it, taste it, feel it, you will worry for people there and admire them...
I enjoyed this story of Tahir running around India learning about Magic. I think there may of been a little embellishment in his true story. I believe one should not let strict adherence to the facts get in the way of a good story!
Sep 22, 2016 Dlmrose rated it liked it
Amy Bondurant
Not as Exciting as I Hoped

The synopsis and a podcast with the author piqued my curiosity; however, the plot rambled and the story never really grabbed me.
I have read two other books by Tahir Shah and loved them. They were "The Caliph's House" and "A Year In Casablanca - Casablance Blues". I thought I'd give this one a try but it didn't do anything for me. In fact, I pretty much blew over the pages. It started out fairly good and some of the author's parts of life in India were very interesting. If there was a plot, it rambled on and nothing in the book really grabbed me enough to stay with it. My enthusiasm waned about a quarter of the way throug ...more
May 20, 2017 P rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The kind of racist stereotypes Tahir Shah deals in here belong in the nineteenth century!
Jun 01, 2012 Ita rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All adults
Recommended to Ita by: Tahir Shah
What a Book!

It is little wonder that this, the book which tells of Tahir Shah’s time in India, learning conjuring and illusion from Hakim Feroze – a callous, sadistic, obsessed magician with unnerving occult powers – is his most popular work of travel.

Before initiating him into the secrets of Indian magic, Feroze instils in his apprentice the capacity to endure and insists he becomes a polymath. As if foreseeing the young man’s future life and work, he provides exactly the preparation needed. Th
Jan 21, 2015 Suzan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An amazing book! Despite the fact it is a work of non-fiction, it sucked me right into the story from the very beginning. I could not put it down! Fascinating view of India and a view that I suspect is seldom reported. I am planning a trip to India in about a year and a half and I felt that it prepared me for the trip in a manner that I have not been able to find in the tourist books. It did make me wonder if I can handle the sheer density of people there. It seems so crowded in comparison to th ...more
Aug 15, 2011 Lane marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
For me it would have been better if the author had written a shorter novel based on his experiences: I got to about page 180 and quit. As amazing as many of the situations were, I tired of the mind games between him and the magician, etc. It was as if the author felt compelled to not leave anything out since it was non-fiction. Became very repetitive. Still, I'm glad I read as much of it as I did. It gave me insights into a cozy mystery that follows a similar theme: The Case of the Man Who Died ...more
Ed Kohinke
Dec 14, 2014 Ed Kohinke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really fun read based on a mind-bogglingly unique adventure! Interesting and often hilarious. It wears a little thin towards the end, as each vignette on the journey gets more and more cartoonish, almost kitschy. I kept hoping for a deeper, more reflective dimension to the writing to go beyond the list of "here's all the crazy things that happened on my trip through India". With Shah's family roots in India, he would seem to be in a great position to bring together his thoughts into a really i ...more
Sandeep Jana
Jun 22, 2013 Sandeep Jana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Its a non fiction book based on India , the kind of book that I like to read, thus I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

I would have given it 3.5 out of 5 but somehow good reads does not allow you to rate in decimals so I won't be that critical and give it 4.

Although the subject of conjury and the journey covering different facets of India is quite enticing but some how I felt the narration could have been better. Also the abrupt end leaves you with a lot of unanswered questions and wanting for lit
Dana Schmidt
Struggled to decide whether this was a 3-star or 4-star. There were many great moments in the book--humor about "that's so India" that I really appreciated and fascinating stories about people and places and magic. I thought the book started out much stronger than it ended--I got a little bit irritated by the way in which the author portrayed himself as totally naive at times, which I think was a narrative device that made the story less believable. All in all enjoyable but not mind blowing.
Ram Kaushik
Jan 07, 2013 Ram Kaushik rated it it was amazing
An absolutely amazing read. One of the most unique books I have ever read and being Indian, I felt Mr. Shah captured the essential spirit of India in all its maddening eccentricities. A delightful blend of travelogue and fiction, not clear where one ends and the other begins, this book is a must-read for lovers of Indian history and culture. I am totally chuffed that my 2013 reading has begun with this book!
Sep 17, 2007 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia, travel
This was an interesting travel book, where the author travels around India looking for magicians and illusionists and other odd characters. It definitely made me realize how much can be accomplished by tricks and illusion-levitation, flowers bowing down, "hibernating", etc. I found the story of the konkalwallas (skeleton collectors) particularly interesting. I'm not a big fan of his humor, and the resolution of his apprenticeship is anticlimactic. But still, in all it was a short, fun read.
James Eckman
The closest books that have the same feel as this are Mark Twain's travelogues, a combination of fact and storytelling. I was a geeky kid and used to read magic books, so I could understand the author's fascination and indeed bit jealous, until I read the training bit. A fun read, but best not read this just before or during a meal.

Non-geeky people will probably enjoy this as well.
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One of my all time 3 1 28 Dec 07, 2008 10:31AM  
One of my all time 3 1 11 Dec 07, 2008 10:31AM  
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Tahir Shah is the author of fifteen books, many of which chronicle a wide range of outlandish journeys through Africa, Asia and the Americas. For him, there’s nothing so important as deciphering the hidden underbelly of the lands through which he travels. Shunning well-trodden tourist paths, he avoids celebrated landmarks, preferring instead to position himself on a busy street corner or in a dust ...more
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“Respect was one thing. Survival was another. It was important that I kept my priorities in the right order.” 18 likes
“A journey of observation must leave as much as possible to chance. Random movement is the best plan for maximum observation” 9 likes
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