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Beach Reading - Magical Realism

"The book has so many instances of magic that as you read you are on the edge of your seat in imagination anticipation."

K.L. Moore

Latin American literature grabbed my attention when I was first in high school. I went to Catholic girls school and was fortunately exposed to great authors and poets. Our brother school, the local Jesuit high school, had many students of the Latin persuasion. One of these budding Latin Jesuit boys used to send me poetry via his sister who was in my theology class. I fell in love with the words and their cadence and arrangement. I was falling in love and then, his sister, told me the truth. He was only copying the words and poems of the great Pablo Neruda. He was hoping that I would not recognize the plagiarized words of love. I was angry with him, but happy as well; he started a long lasting affair for me, the enchantment I felt for Latin American literature.

The Latin American literature from the 60's on has been termed Magical Realism. The term was coined by the post expressionist painter, Franz Roh. He said he came up with it to describe the mysterious elements hidden in everyday reality. With magical realism, it becomes possible to believe when fantastic things are occurring. There are many books and writers that use magic and reality to tell their stories. And if you are planning a trip to Mexico, or anywhere for that matter, a good read should definitely include a book representing this kind of storytelling.

Perhaps the most representative books written in the style of magical realism is by Gabriel Garciá Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude. It combines magic and reality all the while telling an epic tale of a small town that ironically portrays the human experience. One hundred years passes in a small town, Macondo, set in steamy coastal Columbia, and while nothing seems to gain a history, a past repeats itself and historical events end up repeating. The events in the book are set to mirror the political strife and uprisings of Columbia during the turn of the century. The book has so many instances of magic that as you read you are on the edge of your seat in imagination anticipation. So many characters have characteristics that are so believable, but in reality could never be. There is one character that creates a magical trail of butterflies, another whose farts kill all the flowers in the house. But, the most gripping character, is the man who lives in the closet that people forget about as he fades from the earth, all the while trying to translate a foreign language into a knowing truth. It is no wonder this book is toted as one of the best.

Another Latin American author that fuses the magic to reality is Isabel Allende. Her most famous work, House of the Spirits, is the reality of a house with a family and everyday events, mixed with the spirits of the magic world, who come to inhabit it and have a direct effect the world of the family residing in the house. Once, again the book is set against the backdrop of political strife and uprisings. Isabel Allende, like Márquez, is a storyteller of infinite proportions, but it is her ability to make us believe in the magic of the worlds she creates.

Magical realism is a literary genre, yes, but also describes so much about Latin American culture. One cannot help to feel magic while visiting the Latin countries of the New World. Perhaps it is horrible violent history. Maybe, in order to deal with such a raw existence and experience, the Latin culture has found its escape and way in the world of magic. Look to the history of the conquerors, spending years in search of a city of gold, or a fountain of youth. These hardened soldiers, once here in the New World, heard about magic and followed it to the ends of the earth. So, if you are in need of good stories, rooted in true histories, but with the added extras of magic and the unknown, pick up a book of magical realism, you will find yourself believing in a whole new world.

February 2001

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