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A full-color graphic memoir inspired by the award-winning documentary-and the life and mystery of China's greatest magician. Who was Long Tack Sam? He was born in 1885. He ran away from Shangdung Province to join the circus. He was an acrobat. A magician. A comic. An impresario. A restaurateur. A theater owner. A world traveler. An East-West ambassador. A mentor to Orson W A full-color graphic memoir inspired by the award-winning documentary-and the life and mystery of China's greatest magician. Who was Long Tack Sam? He was born in 1885. He ran away from Shangdung Province to join the circus. He was an acrobat. A magician. A comic. An impresario. A restaurateur. A theater owner. A world traveler. An East-West ambassador. A mentor to Orson Welles. He was considered the greatest act in the history of vaudeville. In this gorgeous graphic memoir, his great-granddaughter, the artist and filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming, resurrects his fascinating life for the rest of the world. It's an exhilarating testament to a forgotten man. And every picture is true.


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A full-color graphic memoir inspired by the award-winning documentary-and the life and mystery of China's greatest magician. Who was Long Tack Sam? He was born in 1885. He ran away from Shangdung Province to join the circus. He was an acrobat. A magician. A comic. An impresario. A restaurateur. A theater owner. A world traveler. An East-West ambassador. A mentor to Orson W A full-color graphic memoir inspired by the award-winning documentary-and the life and mystery of China's greatest magician. Who was Long Tack Sam? He was born in 1885. He ran away from Shangdung Province to join the circus. He was an acrobat. A magician. A comic. An impresario. A restaurateur. A theater owner. A world traveler. An East-West ambassador. A mentor to Orson Welles. He was considered the greatest act in the history of vaudeville. In this gorgeous graphic memoir, his great-granddaughter, the artist and filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming, resurrects his fascinating life for the rest of the world. It's an exhilarating testament to a forgotten man. And every picture is true.

30 review for The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    This book is largely kept alive by the fact that the story of Chinese magician Long Tack Sam is so interesting in and of itself. Though listed as a memoir, this is essentially an adaptation of a documentary Fleming made, and I get the sense that she is slightly precious about preserving what she pieced together in the film. Random screen captures from the movie, often with the subtitles still visible, are just one of the many clumsy moves the author makes. Her page construction suggests she does This book is largely kept alive by the fact that the story of Chinese magician Long Tack Sam is so interesting in and of itself. Though listed as a memoir, this is essentially an adaptation of a documentary Fleming made, and I get the sense that she is slightly precious about preserving what she pieced together in the film. Random screen captures from the movie, often with the subtitles still visible, are just one of the many clumsy moves the author makes. Her page construction suggests she doesn't understand comic books very well, and the visual flow of her pages is quite regularly confusing and unsophisticated. Her personal cartooning is also limited. I'm holding out hope the movie comes to DVD, as even though I enjoyed the book, I am guessing that's the best way to experience the narrative.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dov Zeller

    Ann Marie Fleming dedicates this book to her grandmother Mina, daughter of Chinese performer Long Tack Sam. Long Tack Sam and his Austrian wife Poldi traveled all over the world with their two daughters, who wound up performing for much of their childhood years. (They also had a younger son who didn't do as much performing.) One of their daughters, Mina, is of course Ann Marie's grandmother. She stopped performing in her early twenties and didn't talk much about her years traveling the world and Ann Marie Fleming dedicates this book to her grandmother Mina, daughter of Chinese performer Long Tack Sam. Long Tack Sam and his Austrian wife Poldi traveled all over the world with their two daughters, who wound up performing for much of their childhood years. (They also had a younger son who didn't do as much performing.) One of their daughters, Mina, is of course Ann Marie's grandmother. She stopped performing in her early twenties and didn't talk much about her years traveling the world and performing with her family. By the time Fleming started writing this book, she knew very little about her great grandfather, though very soon the information started flooding in. In writing this book (and I believe she made a film on the subject, too), she not only learned Long Tack Sam was a world famous magician and performer, but also that she had family all over the world. This is a great book, really interesting in terms of the history of performance and in terms of the challenges of a biracial couple in the earlier 1900s. Fleming does a lot of work to try to contextualize the lives of her great grandparents in terms of what was going on in the world. She has little time-lines on many pages. She also uses illustrations and photographs, old playbills , etc. It's something of a biography of her great grandfather, but also the story of her family as a whole and an exploration of why they drifted apart and why the memory of Long Tack Sam faded so quickly. I appreciate the format, the mode of storytelling, and Fleming's reflectiveness (is that a word?).

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Trained as a documentary filmmaker, Anne Marie Fleming has created something truly remarkable in The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: an engrossing “documentary comic” that tells in vivid detail the life story of “the greatest of the Chinese magicians” while providing vivid snapshots of the major events of the 20th Century, its social history, and its popular culture. Long Tack Sam was born in northern China in 1885, but spent the rest of his life literally all over the globe, touring with his tro Trained as a documentary filmmaker, Anne Marie Fleming has created something truly remarkable in The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: an engrossing “documentary comic” that tells in vivid detail the life story of “the greatest of the Chinese magicians” while providing vivid snapshots of the major events of the 20th Century, its social history, and its popular culture. Long Tack Sam was born in northern China in 1885, but spent the rest of his life literally all over the globe, touring with his troupe (which included his Austrian wife and their two daughters) as a headliner in the great days of Vaudeville. Sam was always barely one step ahead of poverty, racism, or calamity: the Great Depression; the rise of the Nazis; the Japanese invasion of China; prejudicial visa and immigration laws; China’s Cultural Revolution; and the rise of Hollywood, which all but wiped out Vaudeville overnight. He was a cause célèbre wherever he went, and performed with, and usually had star billing over, the Marx Brothers, “Our Gang,” Orson Welles, and Harry Houdini (who nicked a few of Sam’s tricks). Yet today Long Tack Sam is virtually unknown. Fleming, who happens to be his great-granddaughter, decided to try to find out why. The book that results is ostensibly a loving biography of her great-grandfather, but it’s also much much more. Made up of photographs, film stills, old posters, oral history, archival materials, and even (with help from the cartoonist Julian Lawrence) a series of clever ligne clair-style “Golden Age Comics” presenting alternative and conflicting versions of Sam’s early history and “origin,” The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam is a dazzling display of the challenges of writing accurate biography, the mysteries of identity and self-fashioning, and the palimpsests that history leaves behind. While Hollywood today is obsessed with turning comics into (often bad) movies, Fleming has done the opposite: she originally created The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam as a documentary film, and then decided there should be a graphic novel version as well. I intend to seek out the movie, but the comic stands quite wonderfully on its own as a thoughtful and insightful scrapbook of Fleming’s search for her great-grandfather, and for her own sense of identity as well. The book has some flaws. On occasion Fleming’s authorial voice interjects too forcefully. Furthermore, as Fleming herself admits, she’s not a very capable artist, but she’s smartly woven together a rich collection of found images to engage the reader’s eye. But in spite of these few shortfalls, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam is a wonderful, delightful, and thoughtful piece of work, and its energy and intelligence carry the day. While Fleming’s six years of research, trailing her great-grandfather’s story all over the world, provide many answer about Long Tack Sam’s life, the book leaves its reader with some fascinating questions: What is the “real” story of anyone’s life, and how can all of the apparently conflicting fragments be reconciled? Why does history remember some people, but forget some even more interesting people? And what kinds of incredible tales might be lost in our own family histories?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    This combination biography/memoir in graphic novel form is a complete delight! Ann Marie Fleming knew vaguely that her great-grandfather, his wife, and his daughters had been somehow involved in show business, but all she had were a handful of anecdotes and a single playbill. As it turns out, Long Tack Sam (as her great-grandfather was known) was at one time a world-famous magician and acrobat, and he led a truly amazing life. Harry Houdini stole tricks from him, Orson Welles was among his fans, This combination biography/memoir in graphic novel form is a complete delight! Ann Marie Fleming knew vaguely that her great-grandfather, his wife, and his daughters had been somehow involved in show business, but all she had were a handful of anecdotes and a single playbill. As it turns out, Long Tack Sam (as her great-grandfather was known) was at one time a world-famous magician and acrobat, and he led a truly amazing life. Harry Houdini stole tricks from him, Orson Welles was among his fans, and audiences all over the world thought him to be one of the greatest acts in vaudeville history. His story is one of racism, love, adventure and hardship, and Fleming's account of tracking down his (and her own) history is no less exciting. The book is based on Fleming's documentary about her great-grandfather, and makes use of stills and artwork from the film, but in my opinion it stands on its own very well. Highly recommended.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    Long Tack Sam's life, or what of it can be deciphered from this graphic novel, was pretty amazing. While the format was visually interesting, it didn't do any favors to cohesion. I do agree with the sentiment that history is personal and relative, though, so I can appreciate what the author was trying to do. Long Tack Sam's life, or what of it can be deciphered from this graphic novel, was pretty amazing. While the format was visually interesting, it didn't do any favors to cohesion. I do agree with the sentiment that history is personal and relative, though, so I can appreciate what the author was trying to do.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andee Marley

    I read this book at my local Books & Brews last night. A perfect graphic novel to read while secretly people-watching. This book features illustrations, photographs, historical memorabilia, and even a timeline with world events and popular songs of the day. A fascinating story. A very cool book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    This is a wonderful illustrated memoir about a woman's great grandfather - a famous Chinese acrobat - told through the history of the 20th century. It made me think that some of the best stories can be found within your own family. This is a wonderful illustrated memoir about a woman's great grandfather - a famous Chinese acrobat - told through the history of the 20th century. It made me think that some of the best stories can be found within your own family.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anina

    The story, which is about the author's grandfather, a Chinese magician, was very interesting. Her drawings were pretty bad though. She admittedly can't draw so I don't understand why she chose to make the story into a graphic novel herself. The story, which is about the author's grandfather, a Chinese magician, was very interesting. Her drawings were pretty bad though. She admittedly can't draw so I don't understand why she chose to make the story into a graphic novel herself.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Doc

    I had no idea who Long Tack Sam was when I picked up this book but considering it says it is an illustrated memoir I figured he was a real person and with cover art like that probably pretty interesting. Inside we get a brief history of the author who is the great granddaughter of Long Tack Sam and starts thinking about her grandmother's stories after her passing and decides to find out who this man was that her grandmother loved. From what I understand she made a film and was offered a chance t I had no idea who Long Tack Sam was when I picked up this book but considering it says it is an illustrated memoir I figured he was a real person and with cover art like that probably pretty interesting. Inside we get a brief history of the author who is the great granddaughter of Long Tack Sam and starts thinking about her grandmother's stories after her passing and decides to find out who this man was that her grandmother loved. From what I understand she made a film and was offered a chance to create this book after the fact so I might find the film someday to compare but for now I am satisfied reading the book first though for once it came second. The rest of the book is the story of Long Tack Sam as Ann Marie Fleming (AMF for short in the book) goes all over the world to meet many interesting people so she can gather whatever she can find about her once famous great grandfather. You'll find all sorts of photos of people, some small comics depicting Sam's journey, photos of flyers and publications, and what I really enjoyed which was the distracting side bars explaining things happening in the years explored including world events and simpler things like popular songs. Of course if you don't want to bother with all that take a look in the lower right corner of the pages and get ready to flip as the little man comes to life for your amusement. :) I love how poor Sam's timing was in the early stages of World War 2 personally though I kinda feel bad for him and his family too but that's why hindsight is always 100%.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Arminzerella

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Long Tack Sam was Ann Marie Fleming’s great grandfather. He was a stage and vaudeville magician back in the first half of the 1900s. She pieced his life together from photographs and interviews with people who had known him – surprisingly, her own family knew very little or shared very little about his career as a magician. Fleming made a film about his life and was asked if she wanted to adapt the film to a graphic novel format. She did this with some difficulty – the format was a challenge for Long Tack Sam was Ann Marie Fleming’s great grandfather. He was a stage and vaudeville magician back in the first half of the 1900s. She pieced his life together from photographs and interviews with people who had known him – surprisingly, her own family knew very little or shared very little about his career as a magician. Fleming made a film about his life and was asked if she wanted to adapt the film to a graphic novel format. She did this with some difficulty – the format was a challenge for her – but her hard work paid off, and the result is this illustrated, guided scrapbook. It’s narrated by a stick figure Ann Marie Fleming who walks the reader through her research and through her great grandfather’s life. She includes a great many photographs of Long Tack Sam and his family, the people she interviewed, and theaters where the vaudeville shows took place. Interspersed are comic panels that tell parts of the story, as well as a timeline of world events, so that the picture she paints of Long Tack Sam’s life can be placed and viewed in that historical context. I know very little about Chinese magicians with vaudeville acts who performed in the early 20th century, and this was still interesting. I think part of its appeal is Ann Marie’s search for information about her family – where it took her, what she found, the stories that people told about this man who had obviously been famous in his time, but who time had still managed to forget. It makes you wonder what will be left of you when you are a couple of generations dead and gone – what will people remember? What will they be able to piece together? And man, what an unusual life! It’s really amazing what people do with the time that they have.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Peacegal

    What a neat book. The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam is unlike any other graphic novel I’ve read. The great-granddaughter of a once-famous Chinese Vaudeville performer roots out the history of her now-forgotten relative. Fleming’s own illustrations are horrendous (think stick figures), and she is the first to admit this. Wisely, she keeps her doodles to a minimum and fills the pages with tinted photos, playbills, newspaper clippings, and other scrapbook-like memorabilia. Sometimes, we are reminde What a neat book. The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam is unlike any other graphic novel I’ve read. The great-granddaughter of a once-famous Chinese Vaudeville performer roots out the history of her now-forgotten relative. Fleming’s own illustrations are horrendous (think stick figures), and she is the first to admit this. Wisely, she keeps her doodles to a minimum and fills the pages with tinted photos, playbills, newspaper clippings, and other scrapbook-like memorabilia. Sometimes, we are reminded of the coldness of the modern world. Of a once spectacular old theater in New York, we learn The Roxy is now a T.G.I. Fridays. I thoroughly enjoyed Long Tack Sam, aside from one small section in which the author doodles herself riding atop an elephant for an explanation of the Shriners organization: Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine sponsor circuses and hospitals and other charitable works, especially for children. A hospital is indeed a charitable work. The Shrine circus definitely is not.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David

    While there may be a very compelling story here (apparently the movie was quite favorably received), even by the end of the book I had very little idea of the real character of Long Tack Sam, or the ways in which the stories the author shares shaped her vision of her great grandfather over time. Clearly the title character's life is noteworthy, but the descriptive powers of the author seem overburdened trying to capture exactly why. In fact, in most places the writing is just plain bad, and the While there may be a very compelling story here (apparently the movie was quite favorably received), even by the end of the book I had very little idea of the real character of Long Tack Sam, or the ways in which the stories the author shares shaped her vision of her great grandfather over time. Clearly the title character's life is noteworthy, but the descriptive powers of the author seem overburdened trying to capture exactly why. In fact, in most places the writing is just plain bad, and the level of insight not much better than what one would expect from a middle school child. In AMF's defense, she is a film maker, not a writer, but I hoped that the storytelling part would have come through much more clearly. She hits all the wrong notes. Coupled with the poor quality of the art and images, I would have rather spent my time reading other books about the periods and institutions she describes (early 20th century Chinese emigration, vaudeville, WWII, third culture children and, most specifically, magicians from the vaudeville era).

  13. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    This is a great non-fiction graphic account of the author's hunt for information about her great grandfather, a chinese vaudeville magician who was extremely famous world-wide in his time but who was, for various interesting reasons, completely forgotten by western pop culture. I learned some interesting things abouot the history of anti-Asian racism in the US, as well as some stuff about the history of showbiz! The book is put together in a really fun and light-hearted way in spite of touching This is a great non-fiction graphic account of the author's hunt for information about her great grandfather, a chinese vaudeville magician who was extremely famous world-wide in his time but who was, for various interesting reasons, completely forgotten by western pop culture. I learned some interesting things abouot the history of anti-Asian racism in the US, as well as some stuff about the history of showbiz! The book is put together in a really fun and light-hearted way in spite of touching upon many heavy subjects. It's a fascinating work from a graphic design/mixed media point of view as well because of the blending of various styles of comic art with a lot of photography and graphic reproductions. It's based upon a documentary by the author that is supposed to be pretty good.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    My first true graphic novel, and I have mixed feelings about it. The story itself was fascinating, and Ms. Fleming’s search for her family’s history was calculated to draw my eye. Her great-grandfather’s legacy deserves its a place in the limelight, and I look forward to seeing her film on the same subject. Her artwork was a little juvenile, I thought, but cute at times and effective. The mix of media was very well done, although the photos and art were not reproduced as well in this paperback v My first true graphic novel, and I have mixed feelings about it. The story itself was fascinating, and Ms. Fleming’s search for her family’s history was calculated to draw my eye. Her great-grandfather’s legacy deserves its a place in the limelight, and I look forward to seeing her film on the same subject. Her artwork was a little juvenile, I thought, but cute at times and effective. The mix of media was very well done, although the photos and art were not reproduced as well in this paperback version as I expected, and some were quite blurry.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    Read this years ago and just did a quick reread -- fascinating biography/memoir of one very interesting Chinese magician who married an Austrian lady in 1908. Add children and international tours and two world wars and immigration problems at every turn; who would have thought a little investigation into the family history would turn up such a treasure chest of stories? Haven't seen the documentary from which this was derived, but I intend to. Read this years ago and just did a quick reread -- fascinating biography/memoir of one very interesting Chinese magician who married an Austrian lady in 1908. Add children and international tours and two world wars and immigration problems at every turn; who would have thought a little investigation into the family history would turn up such a treasure chest of stories? Haven't seen the documentary from which this was derived, but I intend to.

  16. 5 out of 5

    ryo narasaki

    A lot of graphic novels are biographical in some way, and many have autobiographic qualities, but this is the first book I've read that inocrporates comics, sketches, primary source materials, text, and photographs to tell both history and historiography... very interesting. the story of "long tack sam" is also very entertaining - funny, sad, frustrating, thought-provoking. A lot of graphic novels are biographical in some way, and many have autobiographic qualities, but this is the first book I've read that inocrporates comics, sketches, primary source materials, text, and photographs to tell both history and historiography... very interesting. the story of "long tack sam" is also very entertaining - funny, sad, frustrating, thought-provoking.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    What a great journey on finding your family's history. I like the multi-media approach of photos, cartoons and memorabilia. I also like the time lines of world history that the author used to put things into perspective. What a great journey on finding your family's history. I like the multi-media approach of photos, cartoons and memorabilia. I also like the time lines of world history that the author used to put things into perspective.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir is a biographical graphic novel written and illustrated by Ann Marie Fleming. It is a touching and intimate tribute of a vaudeville performer from his great-granddaughter's perspective. Long Tack Sam was a Chinese-born American magician, acrobat, and vaudeville performer. Fleming tells the amazing, forgotten story of her great-grandfather, Long Tack Sam. He was one of the twentieth century’s most famous magicians, playing the Palace Theatre, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir is a biographical graphic novel written and illustrated by Ann Marie Fleming. It is a touching and intimate tribute of a vaudeville performer from his great-granddaughter's perspective. Long Tack Sam was a Chinese-born American magician, acrobat, and vaudeville performer. Fleming tells the amazing, forgotten story of her great-grandfather, Long Tack Sam. He was one of the twentieth century’s most famous magicians, playing the Palace Theatre, Broadway’s top vaudeville house, more often even than Houdini. The rise to popular glory of a small acrobat from a village in China offers his great-granddaughter an opportunity for her own journey of self-discovery. Just as Sam's variety show captivated audiences from Shanghai to New Zealand and New York, Fleming aims here to enchant both young and old with a fascinating scrapbook-style narrative. The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir is written rather well. It is vividly illustrated and quite moving, particularly the portrait of transcontinental loves between Sam and Austrian shopgirl Leopoldine Roesler. The distinguishing work is its collage-like and collaborative form. Fleming underscores her belief that it’s hard to know what is true by including the different versions of Sam’s history she encountered in various sources. All in all, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir is a touching and playful tributes to one of vaudeville giants – Long Tack Sam.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    This book makes me want to see her documentary movie to see if she is a better movie maker than an author, but she had an interesting subject here which helped her along & she was lucky that her great-grandfather was famous & that the family at that time took a lot of pictures because it gave her a rich vein of material to use to further her story. Long Tack Sam & his wife Poldi seem to been unusual people who led interesting lives - what is perhaps the saddest part of the tale is that their own This book makes me want to see her documentary movie to see if she is a better movie maker than an author, but she had an interesting subject here which helped her along & she was lucky that her great-grandfather was famous & that the family at that time took a lot of pictures because it gave her a rich vein of material to use to further her story. Long Tack Sam & his wife Poldi seem to been unusual people who led interesting lives - what is perhaps the saddest part of the tale is that their own family didn't think enough of them to pass their story along to their descendants.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I loved this graphical memoir. I have never heard of Long Tack Sam and that makes me super sad. He wouldn’t compromise his values when television became king and resort to being portrayed as Chinese villains so his legacy was mainly lost to History. Here his great granddaughter explores his path as a magician. So good!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    I like books with lots of pictures. It makes me feel that I am a fast reader. I enjoyed reading about the life of long tack Sam. I had never head of him before seeing this book. I want to watch the film. What can I say about the book. It was a fun read. I wish I could write better book reviews. Oh, I try.

  22. 4 out of 5

    MagicDave

    A wonderful follow-up to the award winning documentary about Long Tack Sam's amazing life and career as a magician in the early 20th century. Anne Marie Fleming creates a loving portrait of her great great grandfather as well as a glimpse into the history of 20th century show business and the world at that time. Well recommended reading, especially for magicians and magic historians. A wonderful follow-up to the award winning documentary about Long Tack Sam's amazing life and career as a magician in the early 20th century. Anne Marie Fleming creates a loving portrait of her great great grandfather as well as a glimpse into the history of 20th century show business and the world at that time. Well recommended reading, especially for magicians and magic historians.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    A really fascinating story of one of Vaudeville’s most famous magicians, that doubles as a story about multi-racial families migrating, adjusting, and surviving the rise and fall of fascism in the first half of the 20th century. As movie theaters (which replaced Vaudeville) struggle to survive coronavirus and fascism raises its ugly head again, this 13-year-old graphic novel feels very timely.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hope

    I really enjoyed this book. Her going back and finding so much interesting information about her family and just reconnecting with them makes me want to research everyone in my family tree.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    Pretty good graphic novel of a Eurasian girl trying to find out about magician ancestor who was forgotten by most people.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    4.5* The format was very neat, Sam's legacy speaks for itself. 4.5* The format was very neat, Sam's legacy speaks for itself.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    This is a beautiful story! I hope to find the documentary soon.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Belden

    Wow, what a fun read. Now I want to watch the film/documentary.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    What a fascinating story this was! The graphic novel style was really fun, and I liked that we got to learn about both Long Tack Sam and the author's journey to discover more about him. The look at why society collectively forgot someone who was such a huge celebrity was also really interesting. It makes me sad that I'd never heard of Long Tack Sam, especially considering the theatre history courses I've taken where we did discuss vaudeville and other kinds of theatre popular during his time. Bu What a fascinating story this was! The graphic novel style was really fun, and I liked that we got to learn about both Long Tack Sam and the author's journey to discover more about him. The look at why society collectively forgot someone who was such a huge celebrity was also really interesting. It makes me sad that I'd never heard of Long Tack Sam, especially considering the theatre history courses I've taken where we did discuss vaudeville and other kinds of theatre popular during his time. But now I HAVE heard of him and I'm so glad that the author has found so much information about him (even if we'll never have the full story)! His story is one that is important to remember, not only for his personal journey, but for all the major world events that affected him and his family.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    Every magician can perform a disappearing act, but in The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam Ann Marie Fleming helps her magician great-grandfather perform a reappearing act. Born just after the Boxer Rebellion in 1885, Long Tack Sam was a Chinese acrobat and magician who traveled the world’s vaudeville stages during the first half of the 20th century. While in Europe, Sam made sensational headlines by marrying an Austrian shopgirl; their beautiful Eurasian daughters eventually joined the act, earning Every magician can perform a disappearing act, but in The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam Ann Marie Fleming helps her magician great-grandfather perform a reappearing act. Born just after the Boxer Rebellion in 1885, Long Tack Sam was a Chinese acrobat and magician who traveled the world’s vaudeville stages during the first half of the 20th century. While in Europe, Sam made sensational headlines by marrying an Austrian shopgirl; their beautiful Eurasian daughters eventually joined the act, earning Sam more ink. Although Sam rubbed elbows with such greats of stage and — eventually — screen as Houdini, Stan Laurel, Cary Grant, and George Burns, by the time his great-granddaughter was born in 1962, his accomplishments had faded so far into the distance that even his family members couldn’t piece together his story. Fleming, a documentary filmmaker, took on the challenge. The colorful, scrapbook-style format of her graphic novel biography suits the unique, vagabond life of its subject. The book contains Fleming’s original stick drawings of herself, comic book style illustrations of the various versions of Sam’s early life, copies of playbills in which Sam appeared, and photos of Sam, his troupe, and his family. Sidebar timelines throughout the book contextualize Sam’s life by presenting major events in politics, technology, art, music, and film. The page numbers even serve as a flip-book with a Chinese acrobat twirling in the air. This is a book that teens can enjoy with older generations as they investigate the history of the 20th century through Sam’s life, the path of which was changed by revolutions, racism, and rival magicians. Librarians will appreciate Fleming’s use of primary sources and her warning about the Internet as a research tool: “The ‘facts’ I found there only reaffirmed my thesis that it’s hard to know what is true.” The book’s quality is slightly diminished, however, by two editorial oversights — an effect/affect grammatical error on page 23 and a misstatement of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination date (it appears in the timelines for both 1995 and 2005). In her journey to discover “Who was Long Tack Sam?” and “Why was he forgotten?” Fleming found both an answer and a call to action: “Distances and differences keep us apart, and we forget to remind each other of our own stories.” Readers will find it hard to forget Long Tack Sam; better yet, they may even explore the magical stories in their own family trees.

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