The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir Ann Marie Fleming
This is two stories-- the story of how Ann Marie tried to find out about the great-grandfather she just discovered was a world-famous magician and vaudeville performer, and the story of his life.
It’s a graphic novel, but more. There are a lot of photographs and documents in with the drawings, telling this tale.
And what a tale it is.
Long Tack Sam’s origins are a bit hazy (there are a few versions) but he rose to become an international superstar. He was Chinese, his wife was Austrian. They traveled the world and lived all over, fleeing wars and performing.
The family remained largely international in origin and much of Fleming’s work revolves around being multiple ethnicities, visas, and citizenship. Fleming herself was born on Okinawa when it was UN protectorate. She couldn’t leave the island because she didn’t have an exit visa. She didn’t have an exit visa, because you needed an entry visa. She didn’t have an entry visa because she was born there. It’s pretty representative of many of the issues her family goes to through over the years.
After WWII, Long Tack Sam could become a US citizen, but his wife couldn’t because Austria wasn’t under Russian threat.
Visually, the mixed media works really well. Fleming weaves her stories and broader themes in and out in way that makes for a great read and draws you in. You’re fascinated by Long Tack Sam’s life and fame, but also by Fleming’s journey of discovering her family history.
I appreciated the sidebars of contemporary world events that helped ground the story in time. It’s a sweeping story that takes much of the twentieth century and is affected by much of twentieth century history.
Originally, Fleming told this story in film, and the book comes from the film. Sadly, I can’t find the film anywhere to watch. I’d love to see more of this story.
While this is a book published for adults, I think teens will really enjoy it-- especially the exploration of identity and family.
The Nonfiction Monday roundup is over at The Flatt Perspective. Be sure to check it out.
Book Provided by... my local library
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