The Escape Artist by Judith Katz Firebrand Books, $12.95
Readers of The Escape Artist will notice that the novel is more than a story told to an unknown audience. It is one woman’s gift to her lover: the tale of how their lives stretched and grew until they were woven together into a single fabric. It is a magical gift, perfumed with intrigue, humor and paradox, and wrapped with sadness and longing.
Sofia Teitelbaum, a nice Jewish girl from Poland, is lured away to Buenos Aires and tricked into a life of prostitution. As tenible as her story is, Sofia is not portrayed for our pity, and carries a provocative and intelligent edge. Hankus Lubarsky, to whom she tells her story, is also a nice Jewish girl from Poland—a girl who pretends to be male in order to work in her life’s calling, as a magician and acrobat. When Sofia and Hankus fall in love, their attempts to walk the tightrope of love, freedom and independence are quickly put to the test.
The surprises in this novel arise not so much from the plot but from well-crafted characters who refuse to be pigeonholed—characters like the madam of Sofia’s brothel, whose renowned sensuality is matched only by her devout religious observance: every night she lights 18 Shabbat candles, dons a tallit and teffilin, and then takes out the handcuffs.