Interweaving the real and the surreal, Charles Johnson spins eight fantastic tales of transformations and metamorphoses. An Illinois farmer teaches a young slave everything he knows—yielding fatal consequences. A young boy growing to manhood as a country sorcerer’s apprentice learns the difference between power and strength. These stories capture human experiences in a new and startling light.
As readers of this blog will know I have a liking for short stories, indeed some of my favourite magic realist books are short story collections. The Sorcerer's Apprentice did not live up to my high expectations. For starters there is less magic realism in this collection than the blurb suggests, although there is sufficient to merit inclusion in this blog and my list of magic realist books.
To go through the stories in order:
The Education of Mingo
A disturbing Frankestein story about how a lonely elderly white farmer buys a young African slave and tries to educate him.
A tale about the love of possessions. Two young thieves steal the belongings of a dead old hoarder and then something strange happens.
Menagerie, a Child's Fable
An Animal Farm story about what happens in a pet shop when the owner disappears.
A middle-aged man's discovery of martial arts threatens his marriage. An allegory about relationships and the self.
An aging black professor is threatened by an attractive female student and by the questions she raises about his life choices.
The weakest story in the book - a writer opts for lucrative script-writing over his art.
A sci-fi philosophical piece - a middle-aged black doctor is asked to heal an alien.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
There was a time, long ago, when many sorcerers lived in South Carolina, men not long from slavery who remembered the white magic of the Ekpe Cults and Cameroons...
This is a story of an apprentice sorcerer who tries too hard against the advice of his mentor.
There are some obvious themes here: mid-life crisis and race, both of which I am interested in. But the stories did not engage me. This was partly due to the author's tendency towards philosophizing; and there was also something about the author's language that jarred. But these are personal bugbears and other people will not share them.
I received this book from the publisher via Netgalley in return for a fair review.