Conjuring Asia: Magic, Orientalism, and the Making of the Modern World by Chris Goto-Jones - review by Kevin Jackson

Kevin Jackson

Use Your Illusions

Conjuring Asia: Magic, Orientalism, and the Making of the Modern World

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Cambridge University Press 327pp £18.99 order from our bookshop
 

Fun fact: in 1849, Charles Dickens, a keen amateur conjuror, blacked up his face and hands, donned a set of colourful robes and presented himself as The Unparalleled Necromancer Rhia Rama Rhoos – a name probably inspired by a well-known pair of Indian jugglers, Ramo Samee and Kia Khan Khruse. One thread of Chris Goto-Jones’s frequently interesting book sketches the craze, at its height towards the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th, for British and American stage magicians to present themselves as masters of arcane arts derived from the Mysterious East and, in some cases, actually to pose as Indian, Arabian, Chinese or Japanese talents.

Like minstrel shows, this fad went into severe decline as the century grew older: its last gasp was probably the career of the much-loved children’s entertainer Ali Bongo, whose collection of magical spells included the memorable phrase ‘uju buju suck another juju’. The height of its popularity happened

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