The Mysteries of My Life

by Richard Kaufman and Rene Lavand
Published by Kaufman and Company
Reviewed by Anthony Owen

One of the many joys of my involvement as magic consultant and researcher on the 1996 Granada Television series Stuff the White Rabbit was the opportunity to work and spend time with the legendary Argentinean close-up maestro, Rene Lavand. Now you have the opportunity spend some time with him too, through the pages of his new book The Mysteries of My Life published by Kaufman and Company.

This big beautifully produced 169 page book is split into two sections - My Mysteries: The Act and My Life: Shuffling Memories. The first section is well written by Richard Kaufman and clearly illustrated by Earle Oakes and describes a complete card act consisting of twelve parts which include a transposition effect, handlings of Dai Vernon's Triumph, a card control sequence, Bill Simon's Call to the Colours, Vernon's Follow the Leader, Gibson/Marlo's Oil and Water, Marlo's Elevator effect, a version of card at number, card to pocket, and calling the cards from a shuffled deck.

This is a well-constructed act of strong, clear-cut effects and routines which build and complement each other in both effect and method. However its importance doesn't end there, because almost all of this material relies upon completely original techniques born out of Rene's strong passion to perform such material, despite losing one hand in a car crash as a child.

Although three of the routines and many of his unique techniques have already appeared (along with much more of Rene's material) in the English language editions of his books Magic from the Soul (published by Juan Tamariz's Editorial Frakson and Mike Caveney's Magic Words) on this occasion the descriptions have more depth; not just in Kaufman's precise technical explanations, but also by incorporating Rene's complete patter and, on occasion, his thinking behind the patter and routines, his character, his motivation and the act's construction. It is these nuggets of insight which are the highlights of this section for me.

Sure, you may buy this book because you want to challenge yourself to learn and master the one handed techniques required to perform this material - and for any other one handed magicians in the world this book must be a godsend - or you may want to learn the poetic stories and patter lines which accompany them, because there's no doubt the material has an incredible impact when performed by Rene. However I think if all this book does is make you a carbon-copy of Rene (and - like so many magic videos these days - this section of the book is so explicit it could easily be done) then you've missed the major value of this book. I think you can always learn far more by studying the structure of material and presentations and thinking about the decisions artistic performers make about their work. This book is full of such stuff. (For example, in this section, he says of one single line of patter: "This comment has the goal of educating the audience as spectators of our special magic so that they'll understand once and for all that they should come to enjoy the show and not figure out the secrets. My other goal, a professional one, is to make sure that they don't figure out anything at all, not for my sake, for the audience's sake so their illusions are not destroyed.")

And that's why I loved the second section of this book - My Life: Shuffling Memories, which was translated by Tina Lenert. Like the terrific Fu Manchu Illusion Show (the autobiography of Rene's friend and "advisor" David Bamberg) it is inspiring, beautifully written and displays a rare, refreshing honesty by the author about himself and his work. It is a sad reflection on the magic scene today that the publisher obviously felt that such a book could not stand alone without being attached to performance material. However, I'm sure those that do journey into the passages of Memories, Philosophy, Travelogue and Patter and Presentation in the second half of this book will find it as delightful and thought-provoking as I did.

(Reprinted from The Magic Circular, the house magazine of The Magic Circle, with permission of Editor, Anthony Owen.)


Anthony Owen, August 2000