Empire of Enchantment
The Story of Indian Magic
A vibrant narrative of India’s magical traditions and their journey across the world.
A New Statesman Book of the Year 2018, chosen by William Dalrymple
India’s association with magicians goes back thousands of years. Conjurors and illusionists dazzled the courts of Hindu maharajas and Mughal emperors. As British dominion spread over the subcontinent, such wonder-workers became synonymous with India. Western magicians appropriated Indian attire, tricks and stage names; switching their turbans for top hats, Indian jugglers fought back and earned their grudging respect.
This book tells the extraordinary story of how Indian magic descended from the realm of the gods to become part of daily ritual and popular entertainment across the globe. Recounting tales of levitating Brahmins, resurrections, prophesying monkeys and ‘the most famous trick never performed’, Empire of Enchantment vividly charts Indian magic’s epic journey from street to stage.
John Zubrzycki has worked in India as a diplomat, consultant, tour guide, and correspondent for The Australian. His background is in South Asian history and Hindi, and his doctoral thesis (University of New South Wales) concerned historical links between Indian and Western stage magicians. John’s previous books include The Last Nizam and The Mysterious Mr Jacob.
‘Explores the history of magic rituals in India and the way they shaped western imaginations . . . [with] a pleasing sense of humour . . . and an eye for the absurd.’ — The Times
‘A fantastic and thoroughly engaging history of Indian magic . . . bristling with . . . tales of conjurors, tricksters, illusionists, jugglers, and cunning conmen across the centuries.’ — The Financial Times
‘Fascinating.’ — The Telegraph
‘A strange, deeply learned but consistently entertaining salmagundi of marvels, myths and outrageous cons — a surefooted survey of a vast terrain.’ — The Spectator
‘Hugely entertaining . . . a vividly illuminating history of the place of magic in Indian life . . . [a] fabulous book of marvels and wonders.’ — Literary Review
‘A valuable and entertaining book.’ — The Washington Post
‘Delightful and charming . . . Empire of Enchantment is much more than a history of Indian magic. It is an extraordinarily riveting social history of India, and of India’s encounter with the world. — The National
‘John Zubrzycki has found the most wonderful story- the sort all writers look for and long for- and told it brilliantly. This is- quite literally- a book of marvels.’ — William Dalrymple
‘Exceptionally well-crafted and brilliantly told, Empire of Enchantment brings alive the most enchanting tales and traditions from the history of Indian magic, packed with an extraordinary cast featuring emperors and politicians, street performers and thugs. Travelling with Zubrzycki from distant antiquity down to our own, more recent times, what this book offers is a universe of pure, unadulterated delight.’— Shashi Tharoor
‘Weaving, with his own magical touch . . . an utterly fascinating history of a wonderful cultural tradition . . . Zubrzycki has it all, and his scholarship ranges far and wide. . . . a readable and fast-paced book.’ — Asian Review of Books
‘An amazing, brilliant, and incredibly erudite book. Zubrzycki’s knowledge is dazzling, and his discussions of Indian magicians and their Western imitators or denigrators allow him to tell marvellous stories about animal trainers, snake charmers, not to mention, thieves, Thugs, folk healers, spies, automatons, and about fascinating characters —Thurston, Sleeman, Sorcar — and many more.’ — Lee Siegel, Professor of Religion, University of Hawaii, and author of Net of Magic: Wonders and Deceptions in India