The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam - Ann Marie Fleming

I keep on looking for Sam's story. Everywhere I go, I find another picture, I get another tale.

This is a story that seems to fantastic to be real: Long Tack Sam was a Chinese magician in the early 1900s who married an Austrian woman, traveled the world doing performances, rubbed shoulders with the likes of Walt Disney and the Marx Brothers, overcame tremendous obstacles, and then ... vanished into obscurity, to the extent that not even his grandchildren really knew who he was. Ann Marie Fleming is a filmmaker (Australian father, Chinese-European mother) who wanted to find out a little more about her maternal grandmother after her death. What she discovered was her great-grandfather, Long Tack Sam, and a wealth of incredible stories.

The book was a followup to her film of the same name and is something like a comic book. (The back says "Graphic Memoir.") There are drawings and photographs and stills from the movie. Overall, it's effective in telling the story but I would still love to watch the film as well. Unfortunately, Fleming is not a really great artist, so the drawings are a little weak, and the book really should have been proofread better. When she refers to Sam's braid, she calls it a "kew" instead of "queue." And she has a very inconsistent way of using asterisks. Sometimes there are footnotes at the bottom following an asterisk, but no asterisk in the main text to show what she's referring to. Sometimes there are asterisks in the text with matching footnotes. And worst of all, sometimes there are asterisks in the text with nothing noted at all! (This last practice even makes it onto the cover of the book, leading to a fruitless search for the matching note.)

But all that aside, the tale itself is so compelling that I was willing to let everything else slide. I had a particular interest in the ways Sam overcame racial barriers and struggled to be a good representative of the Chinese in popular culture. Equally fascinating (but puzzling and sad) is the way that this well-respected performer was forgotten by his own family, to the point where Fleming knew only "that he was a magician, and could make coins appear from behind your ear."

If you come across this book, it's definitely worth a read.

(Oh, and if you've seen the movie "The Prestige" and remember the old Chinese guy's "fish bowl" trick, you'll be particularly impressed with the way Sam performed it.)

Fed to jonathan's brain | November 01, 2007 | Comments (0)


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