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Making the Rounds Paperback – March 18, 2016
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"All the magic of Harry Potter with none of the phony gravitas: all the self-deprecating humour of Phillip Roth, but with a much-improving supernatural air." -Cory Doctorow
"Making the Rounds is a book that all should be able to enjoy. On the one hand, Jews should be delighted to read fantasy stories set within their culture. On the other hand, non-Jews might find the book exotic (not a bad thing for fantasy), but they will also find it easily accessible, with most concepts taken from Judaism explained for a non-Jewish audience. (It doesn't hurt that some ideas in fantasy come from Jewish mysticism: the idea, for instance, that magic derives from the power of words has its genesis in the Kaballah, as is mentioned in more than one of the stories in the collection.)" - Ira Nayman, Amazing Stories Magazine
About the Author
Allan Weiss was born in Montreal and lives in Toronto, where he teaches English and Humanities at York University. He has published over two dozen short stories, both mainstream and genre, in various periodicals and anthologies, including Fiddlehead, Prairie Fire, Windsor Review, On Spec, and Tesseracts 4, 7, and 9. His story collection Living Room appeared in 2001.
He earned his B.A. (1979) and M.A. (1980) in English from Concordia University and received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 1985.
As a scholar, he specializes in Canadian fiction and fantastic literature, and has published numerous articles on these topics and on the short story. He has also delivered papers at conferences in various countries in Europe and Asia as well as North America. He is the Chair of the Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy, which is held every two years in Toronto, and edited a recent volume of proceedings of that conference, The Canadian Fantastic in Focus.
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No, seriously. That's what occurred to me once I finished "Making the Rounds" by Allan Weiss, and began organizing my thoughts for this review. The book is a collection of short stories about ... well, I've already told you what they're about. I wasn't very far into the first story before I was drawn into it, and pretty certain I would be reading the book cover-to-cover ... and enjoying myself in the process.
Wizard-and-companion stories are nothing new. But there is something different, something fresh about Eliezer Ben-Avraham and his equine companion, Melech. There is also something different, something fresh from the old - even ancient - traditions of Jewish mysticism and magic, and the stories inspired by those traditions. "Making the Rounds" may have sprouted from the same roots as Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel and the Golem, but it's a LOT more fun.
There are moments that recall to me what I learned as a student of anthropology and literature. But I am also reminded of my youth in northeastern American cities, and my contact with the culture, the vocabulary of the Jewish community, including the Hassidic. Then there's the humor, recalling the great tradition of stand-up comedians who once plied their trade in the Catskills. Remember those guys who gather at the Carnegie Diner in "Broadway Danny Rose" to share stories and put-downs? Some of that.
There's a science fiction angle, too, as Eliezer Ben-Avraham and Melech travel through a blasted vision of our future, administering their unique skills to problems that plague the rag-tag remnants of humanity ... and other creatures, as well. And in the course of their travels, there is time for introspection as Eliezer considers his divine sentence, and how long he will have to endure that sentence.
I recommend "Making the Rounds" to readers of various genre - not just fantasy and science fiction. I won't give away what awaits readers at the end of the book's journey. I will say that, in the course of the journey - as you are making the rounds with Eliezer and Melech - there will be amusement and adventure, magic and mystery, wonders and witticisms ..
... and maybe even enlightenment.
NOTE: I received a free e-copy of this work through LibraryThing in exchange for a review.
At first I thought this was a book of short stories, since the first few each recounted that the wizard is serving a consequence for doing something in the past that he shouldn't have done. But then it became a short story with chapters titled "Day 1, 2, 3. ..8." Each contained a rather clever task that this wizard was to perform in return for room and board for the night for him and his horse. (that's the consequence - he doesn't really have one home and so is an itinerant magic maker). Since he's a wizard, he can communicate back and forth with his friendly beast of burden; I enjoyed those snippets of conversation. One task requires him to find a lost letter from a book, and he discovers his surroundings have a peculiar familiarity; another later on requires him to make a slothful and lustful wanderer happier than he rightfully should be (that got the 'some sexual content' rating but really, only suggestive). His final task guides him through the eight days - he is to return a scroll to its rightful place but he isn't told where that is. The ending left me expecting more, something stronger. While even the wise wizard becomes wiser, it made we turn the page with a "that's it" kind of feeling.
I really enjoyed all the Yiddish words and phrases, and the fact that the wizard is Jewish and celebrates shabbot and holidays like Yom Kippur is original.
Making the Rounds contains episodes in the wanderings of Eliezer ben-Avraham, an itinerant Kabaalist magician, who is cursed to do mitzvah (good works) in exchange for bed and board because he pursued forbidden knowledge. He and his talking horse roam a desert, looking for people he can help. Humorous and entertaining, these stories will expand your knowledge of Yiddish and Jewish customs and holidays if you are goyim, as I am. Although one reviewer didn't find himself invested in the characters, I enjoyed Eliezer and his horse and cared about "what happens next". I've never read anything quite like these stories and appreciate the difference. Definitely light reading, but interesting and amusing, it expanded my horizons. I recommend it!