The Jump Artist

256 pages

Trade Paper

List Price US $14.95
ISBN: 9781934137154


ISBN: 9781934137277

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“This elegantly-written tribute makes as beautiful a use of the darkness and light of one man’s life, as a Halsman photograph of a pretty young woman.”


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“A remarkable work.”

Harper’s Magazine

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“Ratner knows how to use rhythms and metaphors to evoke a sensory, psychologically grounded reality that writers with vastly more experience than him would envy.”

The Jewish Daily Forward

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“Fortunately, in Ratner’s hands, all this material is transmuted into engaging fiction, not pedantic reportage. The novel’s protagonist feels like a thoughtful presence; we understand the historical material through Philipp’s perspective, which is well measured, complicated, convincingly dark.”


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“Ratner. . . vividly depicts his character’s ordeal and amazing recovery from the trauma of the event.”

The Morning News

“Ratner uses a historical figure to discuss the trepidations felt throughout a Europe aware that the future was unknowable yet around the corner. It is this confusion, on an individual and collective level, that allows the novel to transcend the bounds of historical fiction. Ratner describes the era well, but his more substantial achievement is in the creation of a character that history already knows.”


“Ratner weaves a psychologically arresting fiction from these facts, imagining the creep of Nazism in 1928 Europe.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer

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“The book is a beautiful, if dark, psychological portrait of a man suffering under the weight of his own doubts, as well as the world events that have deeply personal consequences for him.”

Cedar Rapids Gazette

“Ratner’s brilliant first novel . . . presents a fascinating tribute to the ‘jump artist’ through the prism of a dark and horrific time in European history.”

Cleveland Jewish News

“After reading The Jump Artist, I was overwhelmed by Austin’s talent as a novelist …[he] has written a compelling, must-read book whose subject matter has universal appeal, especially in these troubling times.”

Deedra Dolin, The Mandel JCC Festival of Jewish Books & Authors

“A beautifully scrupulous, intricately detailed novel about joy and despair, anti-Semitism and assimilation, and like a great photograph, it seems to miss nothing, and to catch its subject in all his complexity.”

Charles Baxter, author of The Feast of Love and The Soul Thief

Philippe Halsman is famous for his photographs of celebrities jumping in the air, for putting Marilyn Monroe (among countless others) on the cover of Life Magazine, and for his bizarre collaborations with surrealist Salvador Dalí (“Dalí Atomicus,” Dalí’s Mustache). What is not well known is his role in the “Austrian Dreyfus Affair,” which rocked Europe in the years leading up to WWII. While hiking in the Tyrolean Alps, Philippe’s father was brutally murdered when Philippe went ahead on the trail. The year was 1928, Nazism was on the rise and Philippe, a Jewish 22 year old from Latvia, was charged with the murder. He spent several years in an Austrian prison and the trial became a public scandal that pitted many prominent intellectuals, including Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, against the rising tide of fascism.

The Jump Artist is evocative psychological fiction based on this true story. Austin Ratner has extensively researched Halsman’s life and tells the extraordinary tale of a man who transforms himself from a victim of rampant anti-Semitism into a purveyor of the marvelous.

Winner of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature


Excerpt from The Jump Artist

Eduard Severin Maria, one of the elder princes of Auersperg, led a hunt that day in the valley. His horse fell and was later found beheaded in the grass.

But Eduard gave little thought to his horses. The Auerspergs took greater pride in their hunting dogs. They were Weimaraners, direct descendants of the Chiens Gris de Saint Louis, the unicorn hunters of medieval tapestry, and they had for centuries guarded over the meadows and moraine of western Austria and lower Germany. Their colorless eyes reflected the mountain wastes like white amulets.

The prince had in fact personally overseen his dogs’ breeding in order to meet the standards of the German Weimaraner Club. Doing so wasn’t hard with animals of such pure stock. One had only to look out for the longhair trait, forbidden by the club’s studbook. Eduard was convinced that careful breeders like himself would soon eradicate the flaw from the hounds of Bavaria and Austria.

Yet only that morning of the hunt, he’d discovered two drowsy dun-colored pups who, not needing the warmth of their brothers and sisters, lay apart on the rug in the drafty minstrel’s hall. Longhairs among his own dogs! If word got out, the club could expel him, or sterilize his dogs. And worse, the source was almost certainly Mars: Freya had littered sixteen pups with short coats before mating with Mars, and Mars had never sired before. Prince von Auersperg would prefer not to shoot the animal; he was the best hunting dog the prince had ever had. He never failed to bring back the quarry, each time laying the marmot or grouse at the prince’s feet and turning right around to watch the mountain again with those eyes still and pale as an old moon. But the dog’s breeding was a problem that remained unsolved, and it worried the prince all that day.
The prince tested the air with a wave of his palm. A warm and dry Föhn had blown down from the mountaintops in the last days, bringing clear weather and turning the mountains cobalt blue, but the dust now hovering on the roads portended rain. Well, he was not yet too old to hunt the Zillertal in September, whatever the weather.

The hounds ran, and patches of morning mist rolled over the cracked limestone, so that the dogs’ wild barking seemed at times to come up out of the ground itself. The horses sailed the riders over the mist with loud clopping on the stone and quick thuds on the turf like a pelting of gunfire. The rifles creaked against the leather saddles. The horns echoed from the Kammë and ravines loomed up so suddenly in the hazy morning light, one had to be very skilled on a horse to avoid a nasty fall. By the time the sun had burned away the mist, a fox was caught, but the prince’s horse tumbled down the brook leading to the Zamserbach. The prince was unhurt. He ordered the horse shot through the brain, and it was done under a midday sun. The hunters headed off to the inn at Breitlahner for lunch.

When the prince had gone, carrying his fox by the neck, the steed was beheaded, washing the grass in blood.

“Everything I do is in genuine pursuit of truth and beauty.” Austin Ratner, author of The Jump Artist, talks to the New York Times about giving up a career in medicine to move to Brooklyn and become a fiction writer.