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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The Magician (The Donora Story Collection) by Kathleen Shoop is the third book in a collection focused on a small mill town in Pennsylvania, called Donora. The Magician is a fictionalized version of perhaps Donora’s greatest export and son, the Major League Hall-of-Fame baseball player, Stan Musial. Musial, who won three world series titles in a lengthy career with the St Louis Cardinals, grew up poor and struggling during some of the toughest times in America, the Great Depression. Of Czech and Polish immigrant parents, the Musials lives, like most of those in Donora at the time, revolved around the poisonous and dangerous wire works and zinc factories that lined the Monongahela River. We follow Stan from his early days as he, his brother, and their friends do whatever they can to continue playing the game they love, baseball, even if they have to use old broomsticks as bats and homemade balls to hit. To young boys (and the odd girl) who dream of major league stardom, whatever they need to do to fulfill their destinies, they will do. We watch as Stan matures into a strong young man, with all the potential to succeed but will he have what it takes to lift himself out of the mill town and into national prominence as a major league ballplayer?
The Magician is a book that sings to the reader’s sense of justice and fairness. Life for Stan, his long-suffering mother, and his siblings could not have been harder. The working man’s lot in the 1920s and '30s was not an easy one. Mill workers rose and fell on the economic climate and often on the whims and petty arrogance of their bosses and mill owners. I loved the positivity and clarity that Stan’s mother Mary brought to the family, especially in the face of a proud, but also frightened immigrant husband, whose vision never raised much above being a mill worker and earning a few dollars for his family. The sense of family and trust in something better for the Musials shone through every page. Stan, as a character, was more sensitive, caring, and lacking in self-confidence than one would expect to find from a “jock” and yet in many ways that is what endeared him to me as a reader. I liked the author’s contrivance of an elderly compatriot of Stan in a nursing home in 2019, conveying Stan’s story to his own grandson, who was on a baseball journey of his own. This just gave the story a reality that was refreshing. This is not a short read, but it is beautifully written, and the pages fly by. If you are a baseball nut, this is required reading, in my opinion, but, if like me, baseball is a foreign language, it is still an absorbing and telling tale of familial love, determination, courage, and the ability to see the best in even the worst situations. I loved this story and can highly recommend it.