Magical Realism World Tour, Part II

Have we actually made it to the last weekend in February? I don’t know what my issue is this year but I feel more ‘over winter’ and craving spring than other years. It may be because I have played in it more with my son, and have been more cold and wet out there in the snow, rather than years he has really been too small to be out or before him, when I skiied and snow shoed, but really more on my own terms.  But I want to be able to go sit or walk at the playground and absorb the sun rather than hurrying through blustery parking lots or seeing if I can fill my gas tank before frostbite kicks in (always feels like a close competition).

Maybe that is why I am writing about Magical Realism in warm climes today, to usher in the warmer weather, complete with my tropical stock photo. I have some cold climate Magical Realism lined up.  It isn’t all warm weather.

Interestingly, the two books I am talking about this morning are not in the same region of the world, and the one that takes place in Indonesia is actually much more similar to One Hundred Years of Solitude than the other book I review, which takes place in South America and would allegedly be more in the tradition of Marquez’ seminal work.  I wanted to lump these posts by geographical region, but I am finding that at least Indonesia’s folklore has significant similarities to what is expressed in South America.

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Beauty is a Wound, Eka Kurniawan

I was intrigued by this book so it jumped the line considerably on my reading list last year, with the justification that I needed an Indonesian author to make my challenge. I think what really drove me to read it was also an interview given by Kurniawan in Electric Literature.  And really, that cover. The Sympathizer will just have to continue to await my attention, even though that is probably more Indo-China, if you will please excuse any of my white-tastic ignorance.

If I had read no other magical realism than this and Marquez, I would rename this admittedly amorphous genre as ‘people who don’t stay dead and the ghosts of vengeance and people who are concerned that their children will be born with animal features due to incest.’ Of course, all the MR I have read thus far has a ghost in it, but not all of them are for vengeance.  This book glitters with intense relationships (whether they make my skin crawl due to incest or not), beautiful women, dramatic deaths, political upheaval and wars, and a “looping family saga” (Electric Lit, can’t steal it), much like in 100 Years, although there is no changing of things into worms this time, thankfully.  When the main character, Dewi Ayu,  first emerges from her grave in the beginning she seems coarse, but then, as with any good story, one builds sympathy for her as her own story is told and she overcomes dreadful adversity to gain power and control over her world.

In the Electric Lit interview, the author mentions how magical realism is endemic to Indonesian folklore and he accepts the magical realism classification to keep Indonesian history alive.  It was a cool book, I was pulled in, although a little burned out on magical realism when I finished it last June. I can’t help how turned off I am by incestual relationships, no matter how beautiful someone finds their simple cousin. I did gift the audiobook to a favorite who I have gotten into audiobooks, as she does a ton of traveling.  She liked it as well.

I was so burnt on drawn out family sagas that I finally picked up this one in January, having come back to the forefront of my mind due to my posting about my visit to The Strand last February:

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The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende

This book came out on e-book like ten minutes after I relented and picked up a paper copy.  Of course, a paper copy whose price tag I won’t peel off because it says The Strand on it.  I have hoarded two other Allende books:  The Island Under the Sea and Eva Luna.  This one is more commonly lumped in with Marquez, and although there are the themes of political upheaval and a family saga, and the magical part being more common psychic abilities from the matriarch, it does not feel as much like Marquez as Kurniawan did.  The magical part is not as fantastic and we almost make it through the book without incest, although this incest is not consensual, and I am not giving away spoilers here, but it is an assault more than it is a mutually desired consensual relationship.  The incest in the other books I mention in this post is much closer to consensual, if not always completely so. And it is much more pervasive. I actually got hopeful that I would make it out without my flesh crawling.  Nope.

This book was gentler until the very last scenes, which are rough and in my opinion a different tone than the rest.  There are gentler parts and the parts that deal with the main male protagonist are more intense due to his violent temper, but it surpasses even those fits in the last part.  I found myself wondering why that element near the end was even in there to the detail that it was.  It did not feel as in keeping with the whole story that came before it.  And for some reason I kept forgetting that Barrabas was a dog and not a parrot.  Not sure how I would get that confused, but here we are.

Next week I am posting on magical realism as it pertains to post civil war African Americans in the South.  It has a decidedly different tone than these family sagas and are rooted in their trauma as slaves and ex slaves and heavily oppressed. As Coates would say, they talk about black people trying not to lose their body. They also more stretch the definition of magical realism. I have more of these books listed out to be conquered, but we will see where it goes after that.  I have to read some more for my writing and I will try to keep the blog interesting while I do this.

Shares/likes/comments!  This blog has been traveling more on the internets over the last few weeks, and that makes me a happy woman.

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