The Magic Barrel

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First edition

The Magic Barrel is a collection of thirteen short stories written by Bernard Malamud and published in 1958 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. It won the 1959 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.[1]

The stories included are :

  • "The First Seven Years"
  • "The Mourners"
  • "The Girl of My Dreams"
  • "Angel Levine"
  • "Behold the Key"
  • "Take Pity"
  • "The Prison"
  • "The Lady of the Lake"
  • "A Summer's Reading"
  • "The Bill"
  • "The Last Mohican"
  • "The Loan"
  • "The Magic Barrel"

"The Magic Barrel" starts as the about-to-be rabbi Leo Finkle has been urged by his teachers to find a wife before he actually becomes a rabbi; he gets a bigger congregation that way, they say. Because he is quite incapable (he recognizes this later on in the story and presumes his study stole his social life) and has almost finished his study (and thus has to hurry), he answers an ad of a marriage counselor. Unhappy and terribly sorry about a meeting with one of the proposed women, he retreats back again to his study. The marriage counselor suddenly turns up delivering him photographs of women, which he initially ignores. However, something draws him to them and after viewing several of them he discovers another one in the envelope. He instantly falls in love with that picture and yearns to meet her. After he's found the marriage counselor (who left him immediately after delivering the photographs) the girl turns out to be the counselor's daughter (though at first the counselor states it's one of the photographs that should have been in the barrel; hence Finkle thinks of the barrel as magic). He gets to meet her anyway; the marriage counselor (her father) hiding around the corner, "chanting prayers for the dead."[2]

The short story Angel Levine was made into a 1970 film starring Harry Belafonte and Zero Mostel and directed by Ján Kadár.


  1. ^ "National Book Awards – 1959". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-28.
    (With essays by Liz Rosenberg and Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  2. ^ "The Magic Barrel". Blog dziennikarski ( April 23, 2010. Retrieved 2011-11-28. 
    (About the title story of the collection.)
Preceded by
The Wapshot Chronicle
John Cheever
National Book Award for Fiction
Succeeded by
Goodbye, Columbus
Philip Roth