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The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson
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The Secret of Magic

by Deborah Johnson

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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
This novel won the Harper Lee Award for Legal Fiction. This award is given by the University of Alabama Law School for a work of fiction that features lawyers making a difference in the world.

This novel was great! From the first pages of this book I was sucked into the world depicted in this novel. In many ways it is a strange mixture of stories and so parts of it read differently than other parts, but for me, all the parts worked brilliantly. There are parts of this book that reminds me of Underneath by Kathi Appelt, and later in the book one of the characters speaks about old legends and even older Mississippian Indian legends. These people are related to the Cado peoples talked about in the Newbery Honor Book by Appelt. The novel is set in the area in which I live (the author lives in Columbus, Mississippi about 80 miles from Tuscaloosa) and while the town in which the action takes place is fictional, the book tells about other sites and geographical features that are real and well known in this area. But this is only part of the novel.

This novel, while set in 1946 at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, accurately depicts the relations between Blacks and Whites in this area - even today. I am sure that this fact alone has not made it any friends in the Deep South, but it should be read, if for nothing else, just for the accurate picture of race relations. This is a much more realistic picture of the present day Deep South than that milksop, candy-coated, cream puff of a novel "The Help" could ever be. So, of course, "Secret of Magic" is written by a "Woman of Color," whereas "The Help" is not. No wonder Southerners love the latter and wouldn't really take to the former. But don't let any of that stop you from reading this book. It will make you laugh and cry. A novel can't do better than that. ( )
1 vote benitastrnad | Oct 5, 2017 |
"If you liked The Help, you'll love this one!"--EW.com

In a novel that ??brings authentic history to light,ƒ?* a young female attorney from New York City attempts the impossible in 1946: attaining justice for a black man in the Deep South.?ÿ

Regina Robichard works for Thurgood Marshall, who receives an unusual letter asking the NAACP to investigate the murder of a returning black war hero. It is signed by M. P. Calhoun, the most reclusive author in the country.

As a child, Regina was captivated by Calhounƒ??s?ÿThe Secret of Magic, a novel in which white and black children played together in a magical forest. The book was a sensation, featured on the cover of Time magazine, and banned more than any other book in the South. And then M.P. Calhoun disappeared.

With Thurgoodƒ??s permission, Regina heads down to Mississippi to find Calhoun and investigate the case. But as she navigates the muddy waters of racism, relationships, and her own tragic past, she finds that nothing in the South is as it seems.

Named one of four titles on the shortlist for this yearƒ??s Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, awarded by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation
?ÿ
READERS GUIDE INCLUDED

*Augusta Trobaugh ( )
  cdiemert | Jul 30, 2017 |
Heartwrenching. Soul searching. Terrifying. Vindicating. Powerful. Tragic. Real. ( )
  whybehave2002 | Apr 28, 2017 |
THE SECRET OF MAGIC has one of the strongest opening chapters I’ve read in a long time. Set in 1946 it depicts the attempted homecoming of a decorated Lieutenant who has a head full of nightmares from the battlefields of WWII. Joe Howard Wilson is desperate to see his father, to retreat to the familiar, to heal. But Joe Howard is black and when he is told he must give up his seat on the bus that is meant to take him home in favour of German prisoners of war – they’re white after all – he baulks at the injustice. And is subsequently murdered.

The opening made me cry. Not just because it is heart-wrenching itself or because I read it during a time when I could be forgiven for thinking the world hasn’t moved on much at all in 70 years. But because it is so well written. Only a few pages but they pack a punch; offering striking imagery, engaging character establishment and managing to set a powerful expectation for what is to come.

The rest of the book was something of a disappointment.

I’ve debated whether or not to write this review. I have found that it is usually better to say nothing than be drawn into the kind of unwinnable argument such sentiments often create. Perhaps it’s the way I do it but more often than not people think I’m siding with the “baddies” when I express a negative sentiment about a book (or movie or whatever) that explores a deeply traumatising event or element of history. For example when I remarked that I didn’t think 12 Years a Slave was as good a movie as all its hype had suggested someone I know asked how I could be supportive of slavery. The same person would undoubtedly think I support the killing of random black people if he knew I think THE SECRET OF MAGIC flawed too. I feel like it’s possible to separate my position on the real-world themes and history being depicted from the elements that make up a book. But maybe not? Or maybe I’m doing it wrong.

In support of my premise I’ll have ago. At talking about what I found disappointing about the book rather than what I do or don’t think about systemic racism.

The book felt like a bunch of set pieces, each one with the aim of reinforcing the notion that racism was rampant in Mississippi in the 40’s and racism is bad. Just to be clear I’m not arguing with any of that and am in no doubt that many horrendous things were done to black people in Mississippi in the 40’s for no other reason than white people could get away with doing them. But a work of fiction has to offer more than reportage. Doesn’t it? Surely it is meant to engage on another level too. Even if it has a really, really important message. As a reader I want to be kept interested in a story and its characters not just browbeaten or transported back to school.

Part of the reason the book didn’t work for me was its inclusion of a story within the story. One of the central characters – a white woman called M.P. Calhoun – is famous for having written a book many years ago in which black and white characters share adventures. Obviously that was a subversive concept for its time and so the book has a lot of importance for some of the characters. So this story, with magical realism overtones, is incorporated across the scope of the book via extract after extract. All of which completely failed to grab me. I found these passages repetitive and rambly and thought they contributed heavily to the slow pace of the narrative while not adding anything much to my understanding of the wider issues the author was addressing.

For me too the balance of historical fact and fiction was not right; too much of the former and too little of the latter. I think for example it’s difficult to use big, important names from history in this kind of fiction such as Johnson’s inclusion of Thurgood Marshall, founder of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, here. The man is legendary (even down here at the bottom of the world) and revered so there are great limitations on what you can do with such a character within a work of fiction. Authors who I think more successfully deploy real people in their fictional worlds either use lesser known names or place a more famous person in a time or place at which they weren’t yet known. Using Thurgood during the early years of the Legal Defense Fund did not provide much scope for creativity.

I did enjoy the depiction of Mary Pickett Calhoun: white and privileged yet the one who invites the NAACP to Revere Mississippi to investigate Joe Howard’s death. Her reasons for doing so are complex and the way the question of whether she really wants Regina Robichard – the black, female lawyer sent from New York – to find answers or only appear to be doing something is teased out across the novels offers a genuinely grey element to the novel. Everything and everyone else is, pardon the pun, too black and white for me.

I’m not suggesting THE SECRET OF MAGIC is a terrible book. But nor is it one that I will remember with fondness (or anger or any other strong emotion) as I imagined I would after that opening chapter. Nor do I mean to make light of the real world events on which it is based or the obvious personal connection the author has to many of its elements. But if it is permissible to set all that aside and just talk about whether or not the book ‘worked’ for me then it didn’t. I found its predictability and its focus on facts and teaching rather than engagement of the reader (at least this reader) on a creative level a struggle. It took me nearly three weeks to read and then it was only the promise of a glass of red when I finished that made me plough through the last 60 or so pages. Reading shouldn’t feel like taking medicine.
  bsquaredinoz | Aug 2, 2016 |
Lieutenant Joe Howard Wilson is returning home via bus after being honorably discharged from the Army for his service in WW2. He ends up being brutally murdered before he can make it all the way home to Mississippi. Regina Robichard is a rookie lawyer from New York who works under the tutelage of Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She feels that she can prove herself to her male coworkers by helping to solve this case and getting justice for Joe Howard's father, Willie Willie. Regina is also drawn in by the fact that her favorite author, M.P. Calhoun, is connected to Joe Howard and is the one who has asked for help.

"The Secret of Magic" begins with Joe Howard's last moments before he is murdered. Anticipation builds quickly since we all know what will ultimately happen but not why. The rest of the story focuses mainly of Regina's experiences in the South while trying to build a case. I felt the middle sagged a little even while there subtle things were happening that would all add up eventually. There were a lot of run-on sentences that I had to re-read to understand what was being said, and the phrase "at least" was used to the point of distraction. Regina's thoughts got a little repetitious. The middle and the writing style kept me from thinking of it as a 5 star book although the overarching story is 5 stars.

What I appreciate most about this book is the fact that it provides a realistic sense of race relations in the South and the rampant terrorist acts that were occurring at that time against African-Americans. I liked that the main characters aren't cut and dried, especially Willie Willie and Mary Calhoun. You can't just guess what they're all about. While "The Secret of Magic" has been compared to "The Help" (and both books were published by the same house), they are not very similar. "The Secret of Magic" has a more serious vibe, a slower pace, no caricaturistic humor, and more believable characters. I enjoyed certain aspects of both but they are very different stories. ( )
  cosiari | Jul 3, 2016 |
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For my grandfather Joe Howard Thurman and his great-grandson Matthew Thurman Schumacher, with love
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Gotcha!
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0399157727, Hardcover)

In 1946, a young female attorney from New York City attempts the impossible: attaining justice for a black man in the Deep South.

 
Regina Robichard works for Thurgood Marshall, who receives an unusual letter asking the NAACP to investigate the murder of a returning black war hero. It is signed by M. P. Calhoun, the most reclusive author in the country.
 
As a child, Regina was captivated by Calhoun’s The Secret of Magic, a novel in which white and black children played together in a magical forest.

Once down in Mississippi, Regina finds that nothing in the South is as it seems. She must navigate the muddy waters of racism, relationships, and her own tragic past. The Secret of Magic brilliantly explores the power of stories and those who tell them.
 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:38 -0400)

Working for a prominent member of the NAACP in 1946 when a request comes from her favorite childhood author to investigate the murder of a black war hero, Regina Robichard travels to Mississippi, where she navigates the muddy waters of racism, relationships, and her own tragic past.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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