It’s 1913 and Sofia Teitelbaum is a sweet 16-year-old living in Poland. Her family isn’t wealthy, but she’s happy enough, especially since she loves her friend Tamar. Out of nowhere one day, her parents are drawn in by Tutsik Goldenberg, an Argentina-based diamond merchant who claims that marrying Sofia is the only cure for his loneliness. They might think they’re saving Sofia from the dangers of living as a Jewish girl at that time, but Tutsik has other plans. Like the many other girls whose families he’s tricked before, Tutsik dumps Sofia in his sister’s brothel as soon as they arrive in Buenos Aires.
Tutsik hates Buenos Aires and longs for home in Poland, with his visits to scout for new prostitutes the only reprieve. His sister, Perle, takes care of him, but she allows him control over nothing. When Tutsik sees Hankus Lubarsky, a brilliant and handsome street magician and escape artist, he knows he has the ticket to get out from under his sister’s thumb—if only Tutsik can convince Hankus that he needs a manager.
Hankus has secrets of his own, however, the biggest being that he is actually a girl, Hannah Lubarsky. Hankus and Sofia find love together, but it’s put to the test when they have find a way out of the Jewish underworld of Buenos Aires.
There are many characters in the book, between Sofia, Hankus, Tutsik and those who surround them. The author does a brilliant job of making them complex, yet human. I found myself enthralled by both the things they did and the things that were done to them, and even if I didn’t necessarily like all of them *cough*Tutsik!*cough*, I still found myself able to sympathize with them.
The Writing Style
I just want to bow down to the writing master that is Judith Katz. Because ohhhhhmigaaaaawd, friends, she did something amazing and special with The Escape Artist.
The whole book is told in the first person from Sofia’s perspective. More than that, though, we’re actually reading the account that Sofia tells Hankus at some point after the events of the book take place. Not only does she tell Hankus about how she (Sofia) ended up in Buenos Aires, but she also recounts Hankus’s own backstory, and fills in what she imagined happened with other characters in other parts of the city when neither woman was there to witness the events. While I’m inclined to call her the ultimate unreliable narrator, I actually think it’s that Sofia is the ultimate storyteller, reshaping their story as she needs to, filling it with emotional truth when she doesn’t have facts to draw on.
Magic and dreams feature prominently in the story, sometimes feeling like the flip side of the same coin. But because the magic is all prestidigitation and escape artistry (with a little dramatic juggling and the like for flair), it works to support the strong theme of deception that runs through the story, whether through Tutsik getting Sofia away from her family all the way to the cons that hurtle the characters to the book’s climax and ending.
Everything? The Escape Artist is a gorgeous book full of lush writing, fascinating characters, and a narrator who might just make you question everything.
Some people won’t like that there’s mention of Sofia having sex with men, and that it happens on the page in one scene. However, it totally makes sense for this book, given that she’s a prostitute, and I recommend reading it anyway.
I loved The Escape Artist. It reminded me a lot of Sarah Waters’s writing while still being something entirely its own. If you’re looking for your next brilliant historical book to read, definitely choose this one.
Excerpt from The Escape Artist by Judith Katz
Goldenberg was once again adjusting one of his diamond rings. My father was agitated, full of false cheer when I appeared. “Ah, here she is, Reb Goldenberg. Our blushing bride . . . Sofia, please, say good night to your fiancé. You’re engaged to be married.” Then he looked nervously at Tutsik Goldenberg, who looked up from his ring and smiled.
“What? Engaged to him? That’s what this was all about from the start?” My mother slapped me then and there.
“Now it is I must apologize to you, Reb Goldenberg,” my father practically bowed, “the shock of good news. My daughter is usually the most compliant of girls—”
Goldenberg got up from the table and, for the first time all evening, really looked at me, looked me up and down with a sly smile. He took the hand I held over my stinging cheek. “Don’t think about it twice, Reb Teitelbaum. I like a girl with a little spirit. I am only surprised that a girl so lovely as your daughter has not been snatched up much sooner.” Then he kissed my hand but looked straight at my father. A horrible shudder ran through me.
Get This Book On Amazon
Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781612940373
- Publisher: Bywater Books
Note: I received a free review copy of The Escape Artist by Judith Katz. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.
If you enjoyed this book then try this one: