The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett

After reading State of Wonder by the same author, I went to my local library to borrow all her previous books. They do not disappoint. (See my review of State of Wonder

What I like about her books is her inclusion of different ethnic groups in all her stories, in this instant, a Vietnamese gay lover.

Set in LA and published in 1997, the story opens as Sabine witnesses the death of her beloved husband, Parsifal. He dies from AIDS, a few months after the death of his lover, Phan, a Vietnamese. Yes, Parsifal is gay but marries Sabine anyway as they have been good friends for two decades. She was his assistant in every sense of the world, in his business of buying rugs, and in his magic performance.

After Parsifal’s death, Sabine is told by his lawyer that Parsifal is survived by his mother and two sisters. She is shocked as Parsifal had always maintained that he has no family. What hadn’t his family contacted him all these years? What kind of family could they be like if Parsifal refused to acknowledge their existence?

Parsifal’s mother and sister visit LA and Sabine is intrigued by Parsifal’s life before he becomes Parsifal, the magician. She travels to his home town in Nebraska to learn more about him and what greets her is totally beyond her expectation.

I read this book while travelling through Germany in Winter. As snowflakes falls outside my apartment in the Bavarian Forest, I imagine Sabine as she sits in Guy’s room in wintery Nebraska, before he became Parcifal, snowstorm howling outside her window.

Reading this book is not about knowing the ending, but more about how the relationship developes between Sabine and the females left behind by her gay husband. Patchett writes with sensitivity the warmth and the fragile feelings. As the third party in the trio, she was often not included despite her love for both of them, friendship for Phan and love for Parsifal. When both died, she sees them in her dream and Patchett describes Sabine’s love for Parsifal beautifully the first time she sees Parsifal in her dream:

She breaks from Phan, whose arms bloom open to let her go. She runs and runs through the crowd of beautiful men and women who are walking towards her holding hands. He is beautiful, as beautiful as he was that first night in the Magic Hat…Good health has made him young again. Sabine’s crying has started and it blurs her vision, but it doesn’t matter because he is coming towards her as well. He is with her. He is catching her, holding her, as she cries and cries against his chest. This is everything she has wanted, this instant, the sound of his heart beneath his sweater.”

Patchett shifts effortlessly between dreams and reality in this books, and even as Phan and Parsifal are both dead, they are there with the women as they bond, as Sabine learns about Guy Fetter and the Fetter women learns about their lost son and brother and his lover.

A truly wonderful book.



About vickychong

Just an ordinary woman.
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