Tag Archives: Magic Realism

Where the Fruit Falls

Family saga novel about racism, Aboriginal identity and intergenerational trauma

Content warning: racism

2020 was not a great year for authors. Usually when an author publishes a book, especially with a well-resourced publisher, the author has the opportunity to promote the book through events such as interviews, panels and readings. For many authors last year, social distancing, lockdowns and curfews meant that promoting books in person simply was not possible. This book was published last year and although I saw a lot of discussion about it on social media, unfortunately I don’t think it got anything like the publicity that it deserved. I bought a copy and it is a beautiful book with a striking design including gold foil on the cover. I haven’t been very active on here recently, but this is my next book to review, and given that today is the first day of Reconciliation Week, it is an ideal time to boost an Aboriginal author.

Image is of “Where the Fruit Falls” by Karen Wyld. The softcover book is sitting between three pink lady apples and three potatoes. The cover is red with a winding blue river in the background and the silhouette of a tree in the foreground with apples picked out in gold foil.

“Where the Fruit Falls” by Karen Wyld is a family saga set in Australia in the mid-1900s. After the end of a family chapter, Brigid, a young woman with a white mother and an Aboriginal father who was killed in action, leaves her grandmother’s apple orchard to make her own way. Following a willy wagtail, Brigid finds her way to lost kin to have her twin babies on country and to gradually make peace with her identity. However, in a changing world, her daughters must face their own challenges and survive the prejudices levelled against them for the colour of their skin.

When I’m reading, I usually take notes of my impressions of the book and things I liked or didn’t like. For this book, the only note I wrote was this: “This story feels like a pebble that has rolled up and down a beach, over and over. It may not be the same shape as the original stone, but it is still the same stone; just smoother and a nice weight in your hand”. This book feels like a story that has been told over and over, perfected a little more with each retelling. Some people have described this book as magic realism, however Wyld elaborates a little more on how she considers it a literary device rather than a genre and how she inserts fractures in her her writing to draw the reader’s attention. Embellished in some parts, abridged in others, this story flows with a familiar rhythm.

However, this is by no means a typical story. Wyld makes some fearless narrative decisions that are devastating in their impact and reverberate throughout the whole novel. Brigid is a complex character who struggles to break free from the lessons she was taught about her skin colour and her worth as a child. Through her daughters Tori and Maggie, Wyld explores the stark difference in how people are treated based on their appearance and the assumptions made about their connection to country and culture. Although Wyld never refers to any particular region or city, this book has a really strong sense of place and I really enjoyed seeing the land through Brigid’s eyes and the city through the twins’.

A beautifully constructed and heartbreaking story. Not just this week but every week, I implore you to follow, support and listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers to learn about and empathise with this country’s history and the continuing impacts of colonialism, and this book is an excellent place to start.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, General Fiction, Magic Realism

The Factory Witches of Lowell

Historical fantasy about industrial action in America

Content warning: slavery

I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the publisher.

“The Factory Witches of Lowell” by C. S. Malerich is a historical fantasy novella set in Massachussets, USA in the 19th century and is a fictionalised account of the Lowell Mill Girls. When management increases the rent of the women who work in textile factories without increasing their wages, the women organise themselves and agree to go on strike. With the help of Mrs Hanson, who runs one of the boardinghouses, and the guidance of ailing Hannah Pickering who has a gift for seeing, the women cast a spell to ensure they all stick to the strike until their demands are met. However, when management counter their action, the women realise they are going to have to take more drastic measures.

This is a light-hearted story that transforms a historical event into a subtle fantasy novella just one step shy of magic realism. The magic is sparse yet effective. Although dealing with serious issues including women’s rights and workers’ rights, Malerich has a humorous and gentle style that makes this book very quick and readable. Judith Whittier is a strong character and a strong leader, and I really enjoyed the banter between her and Hannah. I thought the romance in this book was done well, and was a good counterbalance to the industrial action afoot in the town. There is a point in the book where Mrs Hanson’s loyalties come into question, and I had my heart in my mouth wondering what was going to happen next.

I think that the only issue I had was that this book does at times border on an irreverent tone. The reader is thrown headlong into a very limited point in time, and I felt that the terrible working conditions of the women were downplayed somewhat, and the resolution seemed too simple, given the historical context. Malerich, I think in an effort to acknowledge that slavery was still in place during this time, refers to Hannah’s ability to see a physical embodiment of being enslaved. This was handled in an unfortunately dehumanising way, and became more about furthering Hannah’s story rather than a comment on slavery itself.

A light, enjoyable read that perhaps occasionally made too light of some things.

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Filed under Advanced Reading Copies, Book Reviews, eBooks, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Magic Realism

Gods of Jade and Shadow

Mayan historical fiction fantasy novel

After rushing to meeting my reading goal last year, I decided I wanted to start off the book with something that looked really appealing. This book jumped out at me in Harry Hartog. The cover is so beautifully designed (purple and turquoise are my favourite colours) and when I read the blurb I simply couldn’t resist.

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“Gods of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a fantasy novel set in 1920s Mexico. The story follows Casiopea, a young woman who is relegated to doing menial housework in her wealthy grandfather’s house while her cousin, a young man of a similar age, is allowed to socialise and spend their grandfather’s money. One day, when Casiopea is made to stay home while her family go out, she opens a mysterious chest in her grandfather’s room and accidentally sets a Mayan god free. Bound together, he promises that if she helps him regain his thrown in Xibalba, the Mayan underworld, he will grant her every wish she has. Eager to escape her life, Casiopea accepts. However, it is only once they are on the run from region to region in Mexico, that she realises how much is truly at stake.

This is an original, complex novel that brings a colourful period of Mexico’s history to life. Moreno-Garcia explores the diversity of Mexican culture, society and landscape and expertly handles the tension between traditional Mayan beliefs and modern values. Casiopea is a great protagonist through which Moreno-Garcia examines multiple perspectives, but of particular interest is own Casiopea’s identity as biracial woman. I really enjoyed how Moreno-Garcia handled Casiopea’s rebellion against the traditional female role that had been set for her. I also really enjoyed how Moreno-Garcia takes the reader on a journey through Mexico, and the sense of place from desert to cenote is very strong throughout. Moreno-Garcia has a very unique style of writing with a lot of original and colourful imagery. I loved the scenes between Casiopea and Hun-Kamé, and how as they grow closer, they begin to lose parts of themselves. Moreno-Garcia leaves the reader with many questions about what it means to be human, and what it means to be a god.

Although I enjoyed almost everything about this book, Moreno-Garcia’s writing, while almost always refreshing, was occasionally a little startling with some rather idiosyncratic turns of phrase. I also felt that while, on balance, the ending was the right one, things were left perhaps a bit too open-ended for me. Without giving too much away, I think it would have been stronger if the character Loray had been fleshed out a little more throughout the story.

A really enjoyable read that was as pretty inside as it was out.

 

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Like Water for Chocolate

Mexican magic-realism romance

This is one of those books that everyone seems to nod knowingly when you mention its name. The title just rolls off young tongue when you say it, and is so evocative. I always thought it referred to the craving for water you often feel after eating chocolate. However, I later found out that it actually refers to a Spanish phrase meaning emotions almost boiling over, referring to how hot chocolate is made in Mexico. After watching the film adaptation of the book, I managed to somewhere find an incredibly battered copy of the book. The copy was so battered, it is literally the first book I think I’ve ever seen with an actual bookworm. Nevertheless, I was very ready to read it.

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My attempt at making one of the book’s recipes, cream fritters,. I think I under-cooked the custard, or under-beat the egg white, but anyway I only managed to fry up three of them before everything essentially disintegrated, so if any colleagues are reading this, I was going to bring this into work, but be grateful that I didn’t! Also, after the fiasco of trying to fry a fourth fritter, there was no chance I was going to attempt the complicated syrup recipe in the book (more egg white) so I just went went with golden syrup. They tasted OK in the end, like very rich eggy pancakes, but a far cry I’m sure from what Esquivel had in mind.

“Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Instalments with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies” by Laura Esquivel and translated by Carol and Thomas Christensen is a Mexican magic-realism romance novel. The story follows Tita, the youngest of three daughters in the De La Garza family, who falls in love with a man called Pedro. However, as the youngest daughter, Tita is forbidden to marry by her mother who instead forces Tita to look after her until she dies. In an interesting twist of logic, Pedro decides to instead marry her sister Rosaura in order to remain close to Tita. However, confined by her duties and relegated to the kitchen cooking the most sumptuous meals, it isn’t long before Tita’s emotions start to seep out.

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My first book worm!

This book is simply delightful. I have a real soft spot for books that have recipes in them, and this entire book is peppered with traditional, hearty Mexican recipes. Real soul food. I love how intertwined Tita’s cooking was with her emotions, and I loved the subtlety of the magic that sweeps through the house whenever Tita becomes emotional. I also loved the story of Gertrudis, the middle sister, who is a beacon of sexual liberation and girl power. It’s a wild tale, with increasingly outrageous and unlikely events, and it is immensely fun to read. I really enjoyed Esquivel’s writing, and there is a tongue-in-cheek aspect to it throughout the entire novel.

I think that there were just a few things that were a bit annoying about this book. I found the interlude where Tita leaves the manor in a great state of depression to be really quite tedious, and the characters that were briefly introduced at that point to be pretty beige (although an interesting insight into the ethnic diversity of Mexico). I also wasn’t that sold on Pedro either, who seemed to be throughout the story an irredeemable idiot.

Nevertheless, a magical Mexican romp that will leave you in a state of incredulity. Definitely worth a read if you want something that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Like Water For Chocolate

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Filed under Book Reviews, Cookbooks, General Fiction, Magic Realism

Timeskipper (Saltatempo)

Magic realism in a post-war Italy

As is becoming tradition, I received a copy of this book in last year’s RedditGifts book exchange (in March 2017, to be precise), and I am only just now getting around to reviewing it. I’ve already received my book from the 2018 exchange, but it’s highly unlikely that I’ll get around to reviewing that until next year either. One thing I always put in my exchange preferences is that if my Santa is from another country, I really like to receive books from that country. While this doesn’t always work out to be particularly interesting because a huge proportion of people on Reddit are from the USA, in this case I was really excited to get a translated novel by a renowned Italian author.

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“Timeskipper” by Stefano Benni and translated by Antony Shugaar is a magic realism novel about an eponymous young boy from the mountains in Italy who is on his way to school when he bumps into a god in the woods. Given the gift of a duoclock, Timeskipper now has the ability to see into the future. For his small village in post-war Italy, the future looks pretty bleak as the politics and progress threatens the idyllic rural lifestyle he, his family and his friends live in. The future is also filled with plenty of adolescent anxiety and this novel is a bildungsroman as much as it is political satire.

This was a rich and clever novel that captured the psyche of a teenage boy excellently. Timeskipper is a charismatic protagonist who tells the most outrageous stories that neither the reader nor the other characters can ever fully determine how much is true and how much is hyperbole. I think some of my favourite parts of the book are Timeskipper’s interactions with his long-term love and on-again-off-again girlfriend Selene and how irreverent they are with one another, and how they navigate the changing times. I also really enjoyed the absurdism of the student protests and I felt like Benni was at his best sending up the intricacies and self-importance of student politics.

However, there were some things that made this book a bit difficult. You can’t really talk about a translated book without some words on the translator. This is a very complex book, and Shugaar made a valiant effort to convey all the nuance of Benni’s very rich writing style into English. However, there were a lot of things in the book that did not seem to make sense and I couldn’t tell if it was a translating choice or if it was a mistake.

For example, throughout the book chickens are referred to as chickins. Typographical error? Specific choice? Benni’s joke that didn’t translated to English? I have no idea. Doing some additional reading, I think that there is a lot of symbolism and are a lot of references in this book to Italian historical events but to someone not familiar with Italy’s history these literary devices weren’t readily apparent. Shugaar is cognisant of this, but it is not until you get to the translator’s note at the end of the book that some of these issues are raised. I think that what would have been more helpful would have been to include footnotes throughout the book like other translations I’ve read to help convey meaning where a direct translation isn’t always available.

Anyway, while this was at times a difficult book to read, Benni’s playfulness and pointed observations nevertheless did make it through translation. It shows a different facet to post-war Italian history, and I’m tempted to read other work by Benni to see how it is handled by other translators.

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The House of the Spirits

This is one of those books that I have been meaning to read for a long, long time. It’s been recommended to me by many people and when a book comes with that many recommendations, you can usually bet that it will be good. Sometimes I can be a bit perverse with book recommendations, however. I remember when a primary school friend first recommended that I check out a book called “Harry Potter” I was skeptical. I think I worry that the book has been built up too much and I’ll be disappointed. Anyway, I finally picked up a copy of this book from the Lifeline Bookfair and it sat on my shelf, patiently waiting its turn until I could give it the full attention it deserved.

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“The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende is a novel that almost defies definition. If you were to describe it as magic realism, a family saga or historical fiction about a revolution, you wouldn’t be wrong. Although the name of the country the novel is set in is never explicitly mentioned, the story takes place in Chile and was originally published in Spanish. “The House of the Spirits”follows the life of Clara, a dreamy clairvoyant, and her unusual, contradictory family and descendants. Clara’s fate becomes intertwined with that of her beautiful green-haired sister Rosa’s fiancé Estaban Trueba. Trueba’s choices in seeking wealth and power have devastating consequences on his family and, ultimately, his country. In his misdirected quest for happiness, only his granddaughter Alba can temper his rage and bring out the little remaining good in his ever-shrinking soul.

This book is destined to become a timeless classic. It has everything: history, politics, magic, romance, women’s rights, social upheaval, culture, nuance – everything. It is simply a marvel at how much humanity Allende was able to cram into this novel and how she is able to maintain the reader’s attention throughout. Allende’s writing appeals to the inner child with tantalising pieces of magic and it appeals to the darkness of adults with social and political drama.

I’m not sure what else there is to say about a five star book, except that if you’re looking for an excellent addition to your to-read list, look no further.

 

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