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The Reading List: Magic realism

Posted by Alex Pearlman  May 12, 2012 10:00 AM

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bannedbooks.gifBy Tamar Zmora

At the heart of stories that fall under the umbrella of magic realism are tragedies and despair from histories plagued by violence, warfare, and bloodshed. To escape from the present and the past one must imagine a new reality, and a different way of life. It’s not so much a dream, but a reshaping of the present. When matters are out of our control, and resistance means death, the sublime and phenomenal can uplift the soul and make life a bit more palpable. Infinite possibility lies in these surreal titles, so raise your glass, and get lost in the magic and wonder.

Bless Me, Ultima – Rudolfo Anaya
Most modern classics have been blacklisted. Over time this has conceivably proven to be the mark of a great book. “Bless Me, Ultima” is yet another example of this rule. Challenged in some school districts for its graphic sexuality, this mystical coming of age story of a New Mexican boy, and his grandmother, a curandera (a herbal healer) is unique. Set during World War II, Anaya expounds on religion, Chicano culture, and epistemological themes.

The War of the Saints – Jorge Amado
When a religious iconic statue comes to life while touring the town of Bahia, the citizens are awestruck. But, Saint Barbara of the Thunder has more of a bewitching presence than any of the townspeople could expect. When a young girl in the town is locked up by her pedantic, traditional aunt for falling in love with a boy, Saint Barbara gets involved in an overzealous way. Humorous in tone and memorable in tale, Amado will have you laughing from start to finish.

Of Love and Other Demons – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Marquez, one of the kings of this genre, published this eerie novella (1994) years after his beloved and better known works: One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). A middle-age priest falls in love with a young girl supposedly possessed by demons. After Sierva Maria is bitten by a rabid dog she is committed to a convent.  By defying societal norms and associating with slaves, the community decides this young girl must be possessed, and shall receive appropriate “treatment” – this includes being buried alive. Think The Exorcist, except in this case the girl isn’t actually possessed, but both retain the same strange and unnerving quality, which is all too real.

The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
Allende’s semi-autobiographical novel still holds a spot on many high school reading lists, and rightfully so. In what is nothing short of a thrilling read, Allende artfully weaves a tale of family riffs, lovers’ quarrels and political corruption - likely inspired by her own family history. Allende does what she does best, in this, her debut novel.

Pedro Paramo – Juan Rulfo
A short novel set in the dry land of Comala. Juan Preciado makes a promise to his dying mother that he will go seek out his estranged father, Pedro Paramo.  Juan searches for the man he never knew, but complications arise, and the reader realizes a perfect story of reunification was never in the cards. As with most magic realism novels, family is central – Pedro Paramo is no different. If you can follow the non-linear narrative from first to third person, you will quickly become enchanted with the family lineage of Mr. Preciado, and the effects of one man’s love on an entire town.

What's your favorite magic realism story?

'The Reading List' is TNGG Boston's spot for literary recommendations and reviews, written by Tamar Zmora.

About Tamar -- I'm a recent Wellesley College grad with a degree in English and studio art. I grew up in the Midwest and briefly lived in Europe and the Middle East. My name is often mistaken for Tamara from "Sister, Sister." I love exploring coffee shops and am almost always highly caffeinated. I am very interested in films, the arts, theatre, painting, photography -- you name it -- '90s TV shows, and music.

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