Top critical review
Reviewed in the United States on February 1, 2002
Magic City: the novel is a work of historical fiction set in 1920's Tulsa, OK aka "the Magic City" due to its beauty and prosperity from the booming successes of the surrounding oil fields. Life is good for Whites and even better for African Americans in the small all-black section, Deep Greenwood, where black-owned banks, businesses, churches, and schools thrive for its middle-class citizens. A segregated but peaceful coexistence is interrupted by accusation of the rape of a white woman named Mary Keane. In a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the central character Joe Samuels, a misunderstood black son of a banker, runs for his life to the bosom of Greenwood. The townsfolk rally to defend their native son much to the dismay of the bigoted deputies and mayor of Tulsa.
In some respects, the theme echoed those in the movie "Rosewood". Only this time, the author lightens the story adding depth and dimension to Mary and Joe. Joe's fascination with his idols Harry Houdini and his older brother, Harry, adds an element of fantasy that reveals inner conflicts, family secrets, and other aspects of self discovery and healing for the character. The author shows us Mary's world and Rhodes' writing style actually allows us to feel for both characters that are caught in a downward spiral of cataclysmic events. The supporting cast of characters adds to the story appropriately without overwhelming the main characters. She uses their voices to share the history of how blacks migrated to the area after the Civil War. She conveys the frustration and disappointment that the African Americans soldiers experienced when returning home from WWI. And she paints an adequate picture of the organized, systematic destruction of Greenwood to intentionally disenfranchise and humiliate its black citizens. The reader also lifts from the pages the resolve and determination of an oppressed people--people who were tired of being treated as second class citizens, people who had fought for freedom overseas only to be denied it at home, people who sought justice and equality, and people who were willing to die to obtain it.
This was an easy read; the novel moves well and quickly. I was a little disappointed in the ending, but Rhodes allows the reader to "fill in the blanks" on their own volition by citing fictional resources in the Author's Notes to allow the readers to follow-up if desired.