Magical Realism World Tour: Part I

It is Memorial Day Weekend!

As always, I thank the brave service people for what they have done and continue to do for our country.

As is also momentous for me this weekend, my parents have returned from Florida for the summer and I will be traveling to see them often, and so, I have considered spacing summer blog posts to every other Sunday, rather than every Sunday, as gets me through the doldrums of the winter.

There is also the hope I am going to work on my fiction and short stories.  A hope.  I have found some new energy for the first draft I completed in writing backstories.  I don’t think this is backward, either, because first I had to get my plot down, flesh it out, and now I am working on developing my antagonist and my protagonist backstory and adding more ambivalence to some important relationships.

Although I started a new knitting project and as that is emotionally safer I tend to make excuses to do that instead.

I have been planning to get magical realism into my reading ever since I heard about it as a thing.  I love magic and the supernatural and fantastic elements in stories, especially when they are treated as nothing unusual in the context of the story.  Looking into how the pundits define magical realism, there was a concept that I had not previously encountered associated to the genre: the idea of magical realism in oppressed cultures as a way to see good things in tragic circumstances and survive traumatic events in this article published by Writer’s Digest. A survival mechanism, as it were.  As a Psychologist I am all about survival mechanisms, but I am setting out to explore not only magical realism but how much oppression and tragedy plays out in books belonging to the genre.  Please note: I consider myself no expert and I have not nearly the formal training as the real authorities, I am just considering it for myself and my own reading and writing.  While some books that are considered in the genre are rife with tragedy and oppression, like Toni Morrison’s Beloved and any book involving slavery, I am not sure books by Alice Hoffman fit with an oppressed and tragic culture.  Or Master and Margarita, or The Girl with the Glass Feet, and now I am giving away my whole TBR and ruining the suspense.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is always looked at as a seminal work in magical realism.  I came across a scholarly paper by Lindsay Oberhausen further clarifying the genre in relation to this work, Beloved and In the House of the Spirits stating that in these works not only does the real transfer into the unreal, but that “the unreal also translates into the common.” The paper gives the example in One Hundred Years of Solitude of telescopes and ice seeming magical and otherworldly, but then ghosts seeming commonplace and nearly unremarkable.

Four summers ago I tackled Love in the Time of Cholera while pregnant and binge crafting and battling my first reading list love, the BBC (but not really BBC) book list challenge. I found it tedious. I felt like it rambled. I was not going to rush into another one of Marquez’ works anytime soon.  And I didn’t.

While I wanted it to kick off my exploration of the genre, it was also tedious in parts, like Love, and circular.  It is meant to be circular and commentary on how people do not change and are doomed to repeat history. One of the things that is oft repeated in these family generations is incest, somewhat accidental, but repeatedly, family members are worried about their children being born with animal qualities due to it.  Of course the birth defects have to have a magical/mythical quality to them, not having intellectual disabilities or hemophilia but looking like iguanas or having pigs tails. Although the stories of how these people ended up in sexual relationships was interesting, it turned my stomach a little.  That may have been more off-putting than the tedium and circular nature of the story.

I did like it better than I remember liking Love in the Time of Cholera. Marquez has a beautiful, lyrical writing voice, uses strong nouns and verbs, makes poignant commentary on life, love and human nature.  He writes matriarchs who live over a hundred years (another realism bit that is a little more fun than the incest part) and are much more practical than their male counterparts, who are wrapped up in war or dreaming.  Women are powerful and sexually savvy and love their children.  I have not read a lot of novels that take place in South America or have a more Latin or Spanish heritage and that seems to be some of where my expanding my cultural awareness is going this year with my reading.  I could use Colombian history and how the world changed with European settlers and how magical the world looked to those who lived before it was explained as much as it is now.

As far as the oppression piece in the novel I had to peek at Obersen’s paper to see where she could point it out to me. It was not as obvious as in Beloved, which I am reading now.  But I am going to keep looking in whatever I read.

I also found a magical realism reader for a good price used on Amazon and I am going to delve into it’s shorter works to work on my short story challenge as well as flesh out my ideas on what the genre is about.  I want to see how much oppression plays a role in the genre there as well. And yes, it does include a work by Borges.

Next up on the world tour I am keeping it in South America by reading another one of the works that is considered to be seminal, In The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, which made it to ebook a month after I capitulated and bought it in paperback at The Strand, although I am really happy to have bought a book when I went. She has come out with new books lately that also intrigue me and I am more optimistic that I will enjoy Allende’s work. I also have plans to visit Indonesia, Russia, Europe and the US through time (somehow Beloved ended up getting into my hands out of order and some Alice Hoffman has shown up in my Audible library) with my tour of magical realism across the globe.  And of course, they will also fit reading challenge categories as well.

Am I trashing on a book you love?  Comments/shares are always fun.

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