Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Magic Realism Bookclub to read 100 Years Of Solitude.



Over on the Magic Realism Books Facebook group I am launching a monthly bookclub. Discussion starts May 1st.

The first book we will be reading is the book that in many ways started magic realism: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It also happens to be the first book of magic realism I ever read.

The book is available in kindle format in the UK for £4.99 (£3.99 for the audio download) and is often picked up for less in second-hand shops.

The Facebook Group's address is https://www.facebook.com/groups/magicrealism/

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey


May 1959. From one side of St. Brigid’s Island, the mountains of Connemara can be glimpsed on the distant mainland; from the other, the Atlantic stretches as far as the eye can see. This remote settlement, without electricity or even a harbor, has scarcely altered since its namesake saint set up a convent of stone huts centuries ago. Those who live there, including sisters Rose and Emer, are hardy and resourceful, dependent on the sea and each other for survival. Despite the island’s natural beauty, it is a place that people move away from, not to—until an outspoken American, also named Brigid, arrives to claim her late uncle’s cottage.

Brigid has come for more than an inheritance. She’s seeking a secret holy well that’s rumored to grant miracles. Emer, as scarred and wary as Rose is friendly and beautiful, has good reason to believe in inexplicable powers. Despite her own strange abilities—or perhaps because of them—Emer fears that she won’t be able to save her young son, Niall, from a growing threat. Yet Brigid has a gift too, even more remarkable than Emer’s. As months pass and Brigid carves out a place on the island and in the sisters’ lives, a complicated web of betrayal, fear, and desire culminates in one shocking night that will change the island, and its inhabitants, forever.



The Stolen Child is a powerful example of how magic realism can give pyschological depth to a work. The small island, cut off for weeks from the mainland by the sea, is a world in itself. Or should I say two worlds because the two central characters, Emer and Brigid, are in different ways touched by that other world of Irish myth - the world of the fairy, the "Good People" as they are called. But the Good People are far from good, they are a sinister presence feared by the Islanders and in particular by Emer who is terrified by the belief that the fairies will steal her son when he gets to the age of seven.  Brigid on the other hand is looking for the healing waters of St Brigid's well, which will grant her the child that fate has denied her. St Brigid of course was/is herself an ambiguous figure, a pagan goddess before she was made a saint, so the modern Brigid is in some ways seeking a blessing from the fairies. The well she is seeking is as much an entrance into the underworld as was the beehive that turned on Emer, filling her with poison.

There are many themes in this book, too many perhaps, but for me the overriding one was that of motherhood. The island has lost many of its men to the mainland or foreign shores and on occasion to the cruel sea. St Brigid's Island is an island of women without a future and so the bearing of children is particularly symbolic. In the two sisters we see very different mothers. Rose is easy-going in her fecundity, bearing her handsome husband a succession of twins. Emer has the one son, Niall, whom she watches over obsessively. Then there is Brigid, who has had a succession of pregnancies all of which have resulted in the loss of the baby. Brigid's desperation for a child drives her to the island from which her mother had been driven, to seduce the emotionally wounded Emer and then cruelly push her away, thus lighting a touchpaper for the explosive final chapters.

Lisa Carey has said that she was inspired in part by a documentary Inishark: Death of an Island (Inis Airc: Bas Oileain), which you can view on Youtube. Here is the trailer on IMDb.




Carey does a wonderful job of evoking the bleak beauty of the island, the loneliness and closeness of its community. Her writing about the place is quite intoxicating and haunting and I was not surprised that she has found herself visiting and revisiting Inisboffin, just over the channel from Inishark. I was less taken by the sections in the book where we learn Brigid's backstory in America, just as I was less taken with her as character. I was fascinated by Emer, who is a wonderful character. She should be unappealing, given the way she can suck joy out of everyone she touches (everyone except for Brigid and Rose). But her love for her son and her desperate desire to protect him ring so true to this mother of a boy.

A powerful piece of magic realism, not suited to those who like their books to shy away from dark subjects.

I received this book free from the publisher in return for a fair review.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter

Photo; Alice Hendy

Last weekend I visited the Strange Worlds exhibition at RWA in Bristol, England. Angela Carter lived in Bristol from 1960 for nearly a decade and studied English at Bristol University. She authored the Bristol Trilogy (1966-1971) - three novels set in the city, in which, according to her friend and editor Lorna Sage, “art and life mingle so that life itself is often a form of art”.

I loved the exhibition and plan to write about it and some of the themes it inspired in more detail. But as the exhibition ends on the 19th March, here is a general post about the exhibition to encourage you to visit if you can.

Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter is a dialogue between art, literature and the imagination by exploring the artists who influenced Carter and those who were inspired by her. Delving into the latent meanings of childhood fairytales and the twisted imagery of gothic mysticism, this exhibition pays homage to the dark and compelling drama of Carter’s visual imagination – brutal, surrealist and savage.

Photo; Alice Hendy

This unique exhibition, which reveals the profound impact of Angela Carter’s work on 21st century culture, includes painting, sculpture, drawing, installation, printmaking and film from the nineteenth century to the present day. Echoing Carter’s recurring themes of feminism, mysticism, sexuality and fantasy, the exhibition includes historically significant works by Marc Chagall, William Holman Hunt, Dame Paula Rego, Dame Laura Knight, Leonora Carrington and John Bellany, on loan from major national collections.

The exhibition also features works by major contemporary artists who were either directly influenced by Carter, or who explore themes found throughout her work. These include Ana Maria Pacheco - who will present her macabre and unsettling installation, The Banquet - Alice Maher, Eileen Cooper RA, Tessa Farmer, Nicola Bealing RWA, Marcelle Hanselaar and Lisa Wright RWA.

These works are shown alongside illustrations from Carter's books, manuscripts, photographs and personal artefacts that give a fascinating and intimate insight into her life and work.

The RWA is to be found at Queens Road, Bristol, BS8 1PX.


CATALOGUE


If you can't make it to the exhibition there is a fully illustrated catalogue, which includes reminiscences of those who knew and worked with Carter including close friends Christopher Frayling, Marina Warner, Christine Molan and her publisher, Carmen Callil - the founder of Virago Press. Other contributors include Jack Zipes, Victor Sage, David Punter and Kim Evans, director of the BAFTA award winning BBC documentary, Angela Carter’s Curious Room, filmed shortly before her untimely death.

The catalogue is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Strange-Worlds-Vision-Angela-Carter/dp/1908326980/

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden



'Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.'

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods...

Goodreads description


I read Katherine Arden's novel in my Czech home, while outside some ice crystals like diamonds glistened on the deep pristine snow and others lined the boughs like white daggers. This is a country in which the Slavic spirits of the lakes, trees, thresholds and household stoves, still feature in popular culture. At the mill a few miles from my home they will burn an effegy of the Winter Goddess, Morana, to chase away winter. 

The Bear and the Nightingale is set in medieval Russia when the old Slavic gods and spirits were still very much part of everyday life and beliefs and the Orthodox church struggled to wean its followers off their pagan beliefs. This battle is at the heart of the book. When the priest attempts to turn the people from honouring the spirits who protect them, he brings disaster on their houses. The heroine, Vasya, who not only honours the old ways but actually sees the spirits around her, must seek the help of the Winter King. This sort of cultural clash is the stuff of magic realism, but I am not sure I would describe this book as magic realist.

Over on the Magic Realism Books Facebook Group we were recently having one of our regular discussions about definitions and genre and this book is a good example of how difficult it is to pigeonhole a book. This is in a way a novel in three parts and genres. The first part is straight historical fiction, the second magic realism and the third - fantasy. It is perhaps best defined as fairytale.

Vasya's problems take a turn for the worse when her father remarries and introduces a stepmother, who like Vasya can see the household spirits but unlike Vasya believes them to be devils. The stepmother character, although a fairytale archetype, is treated with understanding and indeed sympathy, and shown to be a victim of a society in which women are treated as no more than brood mares by their relatives, to be traded and married off without any say in the matter. Vasya is potentially also a victim of the same prejudice, but she is the wild girl of the description, both more modern and more pagan.

One of the strengths of the novel is Arden's writing, which is powerful and poetic. The story builds slowly, but that is no bad thing, although it did make the climax feel rather rushed. It is good therefore that this is the first book in a trilogy, as I am sure many readers will be left wanting more of the feisty Vasya.

I received this novel free from the publisher in return for a fair review. 



Monday, 20 February 2017

Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia


Here is the dreamy and bittersweet story of a family divided by politics and geography by the Cuban revolution. It is the family story of Celia del Pino, and her husband, daughters and grandchildren, from the mid-1930s to 1980. Celia's story mirrors the magical realism of Cuba itself, a country of beauty and poverty, idealism and corruption. 
Goodreads description

This is the story of a three generations of Cuban women set before, during and after the revolution. Yes, it is about the women's very different political attitudes and the tension it causes, but for me it is more about family relationships. It is about how past actions can sour and spoil the present, how secrets left unspoken are dangerous, and about the need to rebel against your parents and vice versa. Indeed in many ways the political differences are a way of expressing these other more personal feelings, something that I suspect is often too. As a friend once told me – the real reason you go into exile is to get away from your mother.

In Cuba, Celia, the grandmother of the family, is an active Castro supporter who we first meet scanning the sea for signs of a potential American invasion. Also in Cuba is Felicia, a mentally unstable mother of three, who is drawn into an Afro-Cuban santeria cult. Meanwhile in America there are Celia's oldest daughter Lourdes, who is fiercely anti-Castro and pro the American dream, and her rebellious daughter, Pinar, who is a punk artist and feels a telepathic affinity with her grandmother. The divide between the women is greater than the sea that divides Cuba and America and which plays such a symbolic part in the life of Celia, the grandmother of the family.

The narrative moves from character to character and backwards and forwards between the two countries; at times the narrative is humourous and at others sad. As it does so, we learn what really drives the characters apart. Tragically the reason for the tensions between the women is often the actions of men. One yearns for a resolution to the family conflict, but I will not spoil the ending for you.

The writing is beautiful, magical, and, as one might expect, sensual. The characterization works very well, although I would have appreciated just one well-adjusted family member. Sometimes I thought the writing a little too literary. The narrative strand of Celia's unsent letters to her lover seemed too obvious a device to be credible. But these faults did not inhibit my enjoyment of the novel.



Monday, 6 February 2017

The Famished Road by Ben Okri


Azaro is a spirit child, an abiku, existing, according to the African tradition, between life and death. Born into the human world, he must experience its joys and tragedies. His spirit companions come to him often, hounding him to leave his mortal world and join them in their idyllic one. Azaro foresees a trying life ahead, but he is born smiling. This is his story.
 Goodreads description

This is a novel that has been on my reading list from this blog's earliest days. It is generally regarded as a classic of modern magic realism. So when Open Road Media offered The Famished Road on Netgalley I jumped at the opportunity to read and review Okri's Booker Prize-winning work. Open Road Media is dedicated to releasing paper-based books as ebooks and I have been lucky enough to review several in the past.

Is The Famished Road magic realism? Many, including the author, have said no. And I don't blame them - it is hard book to categorize.

Okri comes from two traditions - that of the classical English-language fiction writers (he studied English literature in England) and the oral African tradition. Although Okri writes in English, his sensibility is very much an African one. For Azaro, his parents and indeed the other characters in the book, magic or the spirit world is part of their world view. Azaro , as a spirit child, is constantly moving between the two worlds. He sees the beckoning and sometimes threatening presence of spirits everywhere, especially during his forays into the forest, but also in the bars and of course on the road. In an interview he said:

I grew up in a tradition where there are simply more dimensions to reality: legends and myths and ancestors and spirits and death. You can't use Jane Austen to speak about African reality... Which brings the question: what is reality? Everyone's reality is different. For different perceptions of reality we need a different language... We like to think that the world is rational and precise and exactly how we see it, but something erupts in our reality which makes us sense that there's more to the fabric of life. I'm fascinated by the mysterious element that runs through our lives. Everyone is looking out of the world through their emotion and history. Nobody has an absolute reality.

If I am honest, there was rather too much spirit world in the book for me. Azaro is regularly kidnapped by spirits, and then runs away from them. He doesn't learn to stop wandering off in the forest, where many of these abductions take place. But then maybe my frustration stems from my need for a conventional (European?) story arc. The book took off for me when the reality of African politics starts to intrude into Azaro's life and his father finds a calling as a boxer. The magic is still there - for example his father's boxing bout with a man who is already dead - but it seems to have more of a purpose and the reality it operates in is more pointed. 

The characterisation throughout the book is firmly grounded in reality. The relationship of Azaro's parents is drawn with all its faults and all its love and you understand why this spirit child might choose to stay in the flawed world of humanity. The other character who stands out in the book is the bar and brothel owner Madame Koto. She is a complex, ambiguous and multilayered woman. At times kind, and others cruel, she dominates every scene she appears in. 
There is so much to write about this book and this brief review can only touch on a few issues. I can only say that this is an important book in the canon of magic realism and that Open Road Media are to be thanked for bringing it out as an ebook. I suggest if you interested in finding out more that you listen to the BBC interview with the author here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02r7grw 

 I received this novel free from the publisher in return for a fair review.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

At Twilight They Return by Zyranna Zateli


Zyranna Zateli’s ambitious, multigenerational saga is the story of Christoforos, who first weds Petroula, and then Evtha, followed, after her death, by Persa; of his sexually promiscuous son Hesychios and the many bastard children left on the doorstep following the untimely demise of so many would-be daughters-in-law; and of the sisters, brothers, children, and grandchildren who inhabit a household and a history expanding to near-bursting. 
 Goodreads description

This is a complex family story in which personal tales are imbued with magic, classical legend, Greek folklore and wider history. The comparison with One Hundred Years of Solitude is obvious and deserved. 

Narratively it is more demanding than Marquez's masterpiece, being told through ten tales, which move backwards and forwards chronologically and which focus on different characters in the story. The tales are interrelated, although it is not always clear how at first.  Moreover, like One Hundred Years of Solitude, this is a long book - it took me two weeks to read. 

The style is fascinating. The narrator's voice is sometimes brought to the fore, addressing us, the readers, directly and with familiarity. It is as if these tales are being told by elderly family members years after the event to Christoforos' descendents, which would justify how the non-sequitur nature of the ten tales. Sometimes I was reminded of the function of the classical Greek chorus, commenting on the central characters' actions directly to the audience. 

This novel is set at an interesting time in the history of Greece, when the centuries-old culture is beginning to be overtaken by a more modern world. That old culture was supported by an oral tradition, which in turn is reflected by the book's narration.

I was often reminded of vernacular folktales with their roots in classical Greek legends. For example: there is the story of Hesychios, a man so handsome that young women are bewitched by him and, having conceived his child, all die in childbirth. And yet his and the other tales are very much based in reality. Indeed the magic is barely visible. It is less overt that Marquez's. It is as if it is somewhere off to the side of your vision and when you try to look for it, you are not sure it was ever there. There is a psychological robustness about the actions and thoughts of the characters that is very modern. 

As you may have gathered, I really enjoyed this book and found it a fascinating read. Just as not of all of you are enamoured with Marquez's seminal work, not of all of you will like this book. But there will be many that do. 

I received this novel free from the publisher in return for a fair review.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Tremble of Love by Ani Tuzman


A novel inspired by the legendary spiritual master, Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezar, known as the Baal Shem Tov, the Good Master of the Name, who beckoned forth love from the hearts of rag pickers, ruby merchants, midwives, and murderers.

Poor orphan. Simpleton. Harder to tame than the wind.

He hears what they call him.

But he listens to the presence his father promised would never leave him.

Yisroel finds his way to those who nurture his healing gifts and rare compassion—until he embraces a destiny he cannot yet fathom nor deny any longer.

Honoring women, children, and the poor as his teachers. Celebrating life’s simplest deeds as worship. Praying with joyous abandon. Loving without condition. Yisroel’s “irreverent” practices threaten the established authorities—among them an embittered rabbinic leader with a mission of his own: to destroy the irrepressible master known as the Baal Shem Tov and his growing community of followers.

Goodreads description 


I find myself at a disadvantage in reviewing this novel. The subject matter of the novel is the life of great Jewish religious thinker and founder of the Hasidic Judaism. I am not Jewish, nor do I have much knowledge of Jewish thought. The Tremble of Love A Novel of the Baal Shem Tov is a long book (over 500 pages on my kindle) and one that should be read slowly, allowing for meditation. In some ways it is itself a mystical experience. Unfortunately reviewing one book a week is not conducive to such an approach. I therefore am sure I missed much and this review is not as complete as it could be. That said I still got a great deal out of novel, as Ani Tuzman's fictional account of the great man's life is a fascinating and comprehensive introduction.

One of the issues facing the author must have been the absence of historical data about the rabbi's life. Some of the evidence is closer to legend than historical fact. But we do have the legacy of his teaching and that combined with folk memories allows this book's account to feel authentic to his spirit. In any case this is a novel not a historical biography and this liberates the author to develop certain themes that may or may not be substantiated historically. The most obvious of these is the active role of women in the rabbi's life and teaching. The central character is often seen through the eyes of women, who find liberation in the rabbi's teachings and attitudes. Important in contributing to the book's authenticity is the portrayal of the society, buildings and everyday life in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the 1700s. There are lots of small details which all come together to give the reader a sense of being there.

One of the highlights of last year's reading for me was the book Laurus. This was another long fictional historical biography of a holy man. It is perhaps unfair of me to compare the two books, but it is instructional. In Laurus we see inside the central character's head, understanding so far as it is possible the emotional turmoil and trauma that lead his pursuit of God. We do not get the same insight in this book, instead we see the central character from the viewpoint of others, and we see the transformative impact he has on them. Of the two approaches I preferred the former as I think it allowed for more drama, but then the character in Laurus is entirely fictional and perhaps Ani Tuzman did not feel she could take such a liberty with a real holy man. In other ways the two books have much in common – the theme of course, but also the sense of time and place.

Having read this novel, I want to find out more about the historical Yisroel ben Eliezar and his teachings.

I received this book free from the author in return for a fair review.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Froelich's Ladder by Jamie Duclos-Yourdon

Uncle Froelich nurses a decades-old family grudge from his perch atop a giant ladder. When he’s discovered missing, his nephew embarks on a rain-soaked trek across a nineteenth-century Pacific Northwest landscape to find him, accompanied by an ornery girl with a most unfortunate name. In their encounters with Confederate assassins, European expatriates, and a general store magnate, this fairytale twist on the American dream explores the conflicts between loyalty and ambition and our need for human connection, even at the highest rungs. 
 Goodreads description

This is a tall tale, literally in the case of the fourth highest ladder the world has ever seen. And it is in the tradition of American tall tales - Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, etc - a story form suited to the bravura of the frontier world in which Froelich's Ladder is placed.

After his brother takes the girl he fancies, Froelich climbs up the ladder in a huff and stays there, growing food between the rungs and communicating with his brother and then his two nephews by a sort of morse code. Then one day the knocking from on high stops: Froelich is missing and one of his nephews sets out to find him while the other props up the ladder.

The hunt for Froelich takes the central character and the reader into a wild west where the fanciful and the real exist alongside each other. Parents be warned: the story turns from picaresque folklore to the threat of sexual and/or physical violence at times.

One of the best things about this book is that it features two strong-willed independent female characters more than succeeding in a man's world. Something I always like to see. 

Whilst the final resolution(s) seemed a bit rushed to me, this is an entertaining undemanding read.

I received this book free from the publisher via Netgalley in return for a fair review. 




Friday, 25 November 2016

Unfortunately I had a heart attack a week ago and, although I am now recovering, I am currently unable to post. I apologize to those writers and publishers who are waiting reviews. I will get to them when I am well.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Bright Magic: Stories by Alfred Döblin


Alfred Döblin was a titan of modern German literature. This collection of stories--astonishingly, the first collection of his stories ever published in English--shows him to have been equally adept in shorter forms.

Included in its entirety is Döblin’s first book, The Murder of a Buttercup, a work of savage brilliance and a landmark of literary expressionism. Mortality roams the streets of nineteenth-century Manhattan, with a white borzoi and a quiet smile. A ballerina duels to the death with the stupid childish body she is bound to. We experience, in the celebrated title story, a dizzying descent into a shattered mind. The collection is then rounded off with two longer stories written when Döblin was in exile from Nazi Germany in Southern California, including the delightful “Materialism: A Fable,” in which news of humanity’s soulless doctrines spreads to the animals, elements, and molecules of nature.

Goodreads description

Alfred Doblin is not as well-known as he should be. It is a sign of how insular English-language publishing has been and how easily it is for magic realism lovers to get a distorted view of the history of the genre and its major writers. This collection of his short stories published in the NYRB Classics series and translated by Damion Searls starts to address this. The style of magic realism you get here is a sometimes dark fabulism shot through with humour. I do not know how much Doblin's work was influenced by Kafka's. Is it merely a coincidence that two of the stories, The Metamorphosis and The Little Fable, have the same titles as two Kafka stories?

The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 consists of twelve short stories written between 1904 and 1911. Part 2, Later Tales, were written between 1935 and 1945. I don't usually mention the dates of the works, but I think it is remarkable that Doblin was playing with forms, such as flash and micro fiction, which I tend to think of as modern. Not all the stories are short; indeed Traffic With The Beyond, about how a medium is persuaded to contact the spirit world in order to solve a murder, novella length.

The early works tend to be dark, often displaying Doblin's fascination and discomfort with women's bodies. In The Ballerina and the Body the central character learns to tame her body to her will: how to compel her elastic ligaments, her too-straight joints, but then her body is stricken with a terrible disease and she is unable to compel it to do anything. Of course this story is still relevant today. Young women are still compelling their bodies and becoming sick with eating disorders as a result.

Whilst you will find Doblin's humour in the early stories, it really shines in the second half of the collection. Sometimes the humour comments on politics and society as in The Little Fable (the people... to the south celebrated freedom so much that they kept it locked up in an undisclosed location in the ruler’s own castle and never let anyone get near it).

And sometimes the humour is basically absurd - as in the story Max, in which a mother adopts a hippopotamus as a brother to her daughter.


I am very grateful to NYRB classics for allowing me a copy in return for a fair review and I recommend the book to anyone with an interest in European magic realism.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

The Immortal Life of Piu Piu by Bianca Gubalke


Set in a land of shifting realities – the Western Cape coast of South Africa, between Nature’s paradise and a ruthless world – and based on the heartbreaking true story of a human-animal bond, this magical journey reveals how one powerful girl and the wild creatures who are her constant guides, join in the ultimate adventure: to unlock the mystery of life after death.
Goodreads description 

The Immortal Life of Piu Piu is listed as Metaphysical & Visionary on Amazon and that is very much what it is. The book aspires to make the reader discover "how your feelings and emotions reveal the secret of your own life. What you are not the vibration of remains invisible to you." to quote the Amazon description.  

The novel opens with the central character and her companions on a spiritual plane before she and they embark on another round of existence. As you will realize, the story is predicated on the concept of reincarnation. The narration then shifts to the story of Piu Piu - an Egyptian goose adopted as a chick by Pippa, a feisty and spiritual young girl. The story is populated with humans and talking animals, for this is a world in which there is communication between all living beings. 

It seems to me that the philosophy of the novel causes some problems with narrative tension in the book. I would have preferred it if the opening scene had been omitted, as it meant that I approached the story already knowing that the characters were and would be reborn. The concept could have been either slowly or at the dramatic ending.

The Western Cape setting of the novel is beautifully portrayed and it strikes me that perhaps in such an environment it is easier to feel a oneness with nature and the parallel nature of time (Pippa also feels the presence and communicates with her dead ancestor) than in more urban environments. It is a oneness that also accepts the presence of death and rebirth, which is symbolized by the terrible bushfire that occurred when Pippa's mother was heavily pregnant with her daughter.

Over on the Magic Realism Books Facebook group there have been several discussions about how magic-realism writers and readers often have a sense of mysticism, although not all writers are as transparent about it in their writings as Bianca Gubalke. The novel's mysticism (like magic realism as a genre) will not appeal to all readers, but those readers that are open to it can look forward to more books in Dance Between Worlds Series.

I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair review.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

A chilling mystery - where superstition and myth bleed into real life with tragic consequences.
 
Pretty Lizzie Higgs is gone, burned to death on her own hearth - but was she really a changeling, as her husband insists? Albie Mirralls met his cousin only once, in 1851, within the grand glass arches of the Crystal Palace, but unable to countenance the rumours that surround her murder, he leaves his young wife in London and travels to Halfoak, a village steeped in superstition.

Albie begins to look into Lizzie's death, but in this place where the old tales hold sway and the 'Hidden People' supposedly roam, answers are slippery and further tragedy is just a step away . . .

Goodreads description

In time for Halloween, I bring you a review of a psychological horror story set in Victorian Yorkshire. The novel opens in London when the protagonist has his only meeting with his pretty cousin and future murder victim. They are at the Great Exhibition, an event that celebrated the triumphs of science and engineering of Queen Victoria's Britain. When Albie arrives in Halfoak after Lizzie's death, the church clock shows two times - London time and local time. Such a clock was not uncommon in that period, the arrival of the railways had highlighted the irregularity of time-keeping across the country. And it is also a symbol of the world into which Albie is stepping. The metropolis may have celebrated modern science, but in the countryside ancient beliefs (dating to pre-Christian times) continued. 

Littlewood's prose is modeled on that of Victorian novels, partly because it is narrated by Albie. A Yorkshire resident born and bred, the author is also able to reproduce the dialect of the locals accurately. Inevitably this means that the reader is reminded of Wuthering Heights, a reference that helps increase the sense of unease in the reader. 

The story unfolds slowly, perhaps too slowly, as Albie is drawn into the superstitions of the village and begins to doubt what he believes to be real. Is he going mad? Is there a rational answer to what happened to Lizzie and is now happening to Albie? When Albie's young wife arrives and they move into Lizzie's cottage and the site of the murder, things take a turn for the worse. Albie's obsession with his dead cousin causes tension within the marriage (how long has that been going on, we wonder). As his wife exhibits strange behaviour, Albie begins to wonder if she too is a changeling. Is history going to repeat.

Is this a magic-realism book? Well, it depends on how you read it. Littlewood offers a shocking alternative answer to why Lizzie died, but the ambiguity that pervades the novel continues to the end.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in return for a fair review.


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine



Set over the course of one night in the waiting room of a psych clinic, The Angel of History follows Yemeni-born poet Jacob as he revisits the events of his life, from his maternal upbringing in an Egyptian whorehouse to his adolescence under the aegis of his wealthy father and his life as a gay Arab man in San Francisco at the height of AIDS. Hovered over by the presence of alluring, sassy Satan who taunts Jacob to remember his painful past and dour, frigid Death who urges him to forget and give up on life, Jacob is also attended to by 14 saints. Set in Cairo and Beirut; Sana'a, Stockholm, and San Francisco; Alameddine gives us a charged philosophical portrait of a brilliant mind in crisis. This is a profound, philosophical and hilariously winning story of the war between memory and oblivion we wrestle with every day of our lives.
Goodreads description 

This is a powerful portrayal of an exile. Jacob is always the outsider, a man who has never been at home anywhere: a small boy in a brothel, a Muslim boy sent to a Catholic orphanage, an Arab in Sweden and the USA. He was always too small, too brown, too gay.  

Jacob mourns his American doctor lover and a circle of friends swept away by AIDS. Since their death Jacob has been in a form of denial. Now as the homelands of his childhood burn under the bombs and missiles of his adoptive country, Jacob experiences a psychological crisis which brings him to the waiting room of a clinic. From his memories, it is clear that not even his gay "family" had been entirely kind to Jacob. The nearest thing he has ever had to a family in some ways was in the brothel, where he was taken under the wing of the madam, but he lost that as his mother sent him to be with his father. Only his father didn't want to know his son and sent him to the orphanage, where he is converted to Christianity and where fourteen saints enter his life and act as guides to the young man.

You can read the saints as a sign of Jacob's mental state, or you can read them as real. Many are, like Jacob, rejected mongrels, rejected by the Catholic church as saints. More worrying for Jacob is the appearance of Satan, whose voice he hears and whom he sometimes sees. If that sounds stark and bleak, do not worry. Alameddine handles the story dextrously. The narrative is shot through with touches of humour, particularly in Satan's interviews with the saints, and beautiful prose. This is a book which merits thoughtful reading: there are also some erudite references here, including to Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, and structurally the narrative jumps between memories, plus Jacob isn't an entirely reliant narrator. But The Angel of History is worth the effort.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in return for a fair review
 

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

They were like family to me


Helen Maryles Shankman's excellent novel In the Land of Armadillos, which I reviewed on the 31st January, has been relaunched under a new title.

You will find the review here: http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.com/2016/01/in-land-of-armadillos-by-helen-marles.html

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Beautiful Ape Girl Baby by Heather Fowler

A rollicking ride of a magical realist, coming-of-age story that explores sex and gender in ways that will have you laughing out loud. Be prepared to travel light with a somewhat murderous female protagonist en route across the country - where it's so hard to be a strong, violent, little ape girl - looking in all the wrong places for forever kinds of love.
Goodreads description

It takes a lot of courage from a writer to start a novel with the protagonist brutally murdering another character and it takes great skill to then develop the protagonist so that the reader is soon rooting for her, but that is just what Heather Fowler does in Beautiful Ape Girl Baby. Beautiful (that's her name and certainly not an adjective) is a wonderful creation, who reminds me of Jeannette Winterson's Dog Woman in Sexing the Cherry, another bawdy and unapologetic murderess with whom the reader empathizes. Like Dog Woman, Beautiful is a complex character with many redeeming qualities - generosity, compassion, loyalty to her friends.

Beautiful grows up isolated from the real world on her father's estate, where elaborate fantasies are created to make her believe she is both normal and beautiful. Statues of hirsute ape men and girls surround her pool. She is told the "friends" her father pays to keep her company are in awe of her beauty. But when Beautiful takes a road trip to a) find a lover and b) meet her idol, whose radio show - Strong as an Animal Woman - has inspired her, Beautiful finds that everything she believed and understood has been based on falsehoods. As readers we know that Beautiful's naivety places her in danger and the very things that at times protect her - her physical strength and the pile of cash she carries around - add to that danger. In addition to Beautiful there are some wonderful supporting characters. In particular the two men in Beautiful's road trip - her driver Thomas and the lover Fedora Man - are great creations.

This is a marvellous book. It is laugh-out-loud funny at times, with a number of targets for satire (such as self-help gurus and therapy generally) and traditional sexual/gender politics constantly being overturned. It also, as is the case with the best comedy, has an underlying sadness. As in Thelma and Louise we cheer Beautiful on, but she is heading for a cliff.


I received this book free from the author in return for a fair review

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Ugly by Alexander Boldizar

Muzhduk the Ugli the Fourth is a 300-pound boulder-throwing mountain man from Siberia whose tribal homeland is stolen by an American lawyer out to build a butterfly conservatory for wealthy tourists. In order to restore his people’s land and honor, Muzhduk must travel to Harvard Law School to learn how to throw words instead of boulders. His anarchic adventures span continents, from Siberia to Cambridge to Africa, as he fights fellow students, Tuareg rebels, professors of law, dark magic, bureaucrats, heatstroke, postmodernists, and eventually time and space. A wild existential comedic romp, The Ugly tells the tale of a flawed and unlikely hero struggling against the machine that shapes the people who govern our world.
Goodreads description

When I read the blurb on Netgalley I wasn't sure whether this book fitted within the magic realism remit of this blog. I still don't know. It is hard to tell in this novel what is real, surreal, magic or indeed the consequence of the central character imbibing too much alcohol derived from the urine of fly-agaric eating reindeer.  

The book follows two alternating narratives - that of Muzhduk's journey to and time in Harvard and that of his later travels in Africa to save his girlfriend. This technique of interwoven narratives seems to be very popular at the moment if my reading is anything to go by. There is a inherent difficulty in this structure in that both narratives have to retain the reader's interest. I am not sure it entirely works in The Ugly. I was more interested in the African narrative than in the word-throwing world of Harvard.

This novel comes from a tradition of satire that goes back centuries. A larger than life (literally) central character travels from a "simple" homeland and encounters a "sophisticated" other world. By dint of native intelligence, strength and naivity, the hero is able to take on the strange world he finds himself in. This book doesn't stop at revealing the false nature of the rituals and sophist arguments that are held in high esteem at the university and wider society. No. Boldizar goes further and introduces the surreal into the equasion. Muzhduk has a fling with witch-like tutor Oedda, and encounters a blue bear (based on the Harvard tradition of the Pooh tree). The surreal and magical of course appear in the African narrative, as they should. But I wonder whether it was necessary to have them so intensively in both strands.

When I read the prologue to the book - that section set in the Slovakian enclave in Siberia (there is a brilliant explanation for this in the novel) - I thought "Wow, this is going to be great." But as Muzhduk moves to Harvard my enjoyment lessened. There was still some fun, but I found myself skipping chunks of the long legal dialogues. This is a first novel and it shows. Boldizar was the first post-independence Slovakian to go to Harvard, where, surprise surprise, he read law. He also spent time working in the Sahara. There is just too much going on in this book for my liking. Dare I say it - the author is having rather too much fun.

I received this book free from the publisher free in return for a fair review

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Konundrum by Franz Kafka



In this new selection and translation, Peter Wortsman mines Franz Kafka's entire opus of short prose--including works published in the author's brief lifetime, posthumously published stories, journals, and letters--for narratives that sound the imaginative depths of the great German-Jewish scribe from Prague. It is the first volume in English to consider his deeply strange, resonantly humane letters and journal entries alongside his classic short fiction and lyrical vignettes  Composed of short, black comic parables, fables, fairy tales, and reflections, Konundrums also includes classic stories like "In the Penal Colony," Kafka's prescient foreshadowing of the nightmare of the Twentieth Century, refreshing the writer's mythic storytelling powers for a new generation of readers.
Goodreads description

This is a collection that every lover of magic realism should go out and buy. You will find here Kafka's greatest short prose works, including The Metamorphosis (here titled Transformed) the story that inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez to adopt magic realism in his work. But there is much more here. Many of the short stories were completely new to me and helped me put The Metamorphosis in the wider context of his writings and view of the world. I had previously wondered whether Kafka was more of a surrealist than a magic realist, but I found those thoughts vanishing as I read.

I was struck by the variety in the fiction in this collection and orginality of thought and treatment. Who would think to write a piece where a bridge is the central character and narratior? Or would portray Poseidon as an accountant? Or start a story with the lines:  
Honored gentlemen of the Academy!
You have accorded me the honor of inviting me to present a report on my past life as an ape.

Also included in the collection are non-fiction pieces. Some are only a few lines, some extended meditations, The subject matter includes the role and nature of parables, writer's block, office life (Kafka worked for an insurance company), childhood and more.

I have not and could not read these stories in their original German, but it does seem to me that the translator Peter Wortsman has been able to create a sense of Kafka's own voice in this book - a voice that is humane and at times humourous, that presents the surreal as if it was the normal. As Wortsmann says in an afterword, he gives us these precious nuggets of a gold miner in the caves of the unconscious. 

Kafka's works featured in this collection are:
Words are Miserable Miners of Meaning
Letter to Ernst Rowohlt
Reflections
Concerning Parables
Children on the Country Road
The Spinning Top
The Street-Side Window
At Night
Unhappiness
Clothes Make the Man
On the Inability to Write
From Somewhere in the Middle
I Can Also Laugh
The Need to Be Alone
So I Sat at My Stately Desk
A Writer's Quandary
Give it Up!
Eleven Sons
Paris Outing
The Bridge
The Trees
The Truth About Sancho Pansa
The Silence of the Sirens
Prometheus
Poseidon
The Municipal Coat of Arms
A Message from the Emperor
The Next Village Over
First Sorrow
The Hunger Artist
Josephine, Our Meistersinger, or the Music of Mice
Investigations of a Dog
A Report to an Academy
A Hybrid
Transformed
In the Penal Colony
From The Burrow
Selected Aphorisms
Selected Last Conversation Shreds



I received this book from the publisher in return for a fair review.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Burning of San Porfirio by Joel Hirst


What happens when the revolution burns out and the magic is gone? Pancho Randelli doesn’t know or care. Released from jail to wander the wasteland, he’s haunted by the loss of his great love, Susana, and wonders at the fate of his deputy, Carlitos. He fears for the life of his best friend and hopes he has not become just another victim of madness.

In desperate search for Carlitos, Pancho begins his quest across the shattered landscape of a broken country. While trailing behind cold tracks and blurry memories, he finds something wholly unexpected: freedom. This is not the case for General Juan Marco Machado, who wallows in power at long last. For him, things are not how he originally imagined.

Without magic, all the money and power in the world cannot save the general from downfall and despair. While Pancho may find what he seeks, the general finds nothing but anguish. At the end, neither man will escape the inevitable results of the ideas upon which the revolution advanced, lived for a season only to burn itself out.
Goodreads description 

The Burning of San Porfirio is the sequel to The Lieutenant of San Porfirio, which I reviewed at the end of 2013 here. Although I enjoyed The Lieutenant, I had some reservations about it. I have no such reservations about Joel Hirst's sequel.

The reason for this is partly because this book continues and finishes the story of the two men - Pancho and Machado. There is an inherent problem with writing a story of two books or more - how to finish the earlier book without the reader feeling disappointed with an incomplete ending. Moreover the characterization is inevitably not complete in the first novel. There is a school of thought that you should not publish books in series until all are written, so the reader can move on to the next book when they finish the previous one.

The Burning in a way picks up where The Lieutenant left off. Picks up not in the sense of time, as many years have past and the young student leader is now a white-haired political prisoner of many years, but in some ways Pancho's story has been in a hiatus during his prison years. Outside the prison the world has changed for the worse under the socialist dictatorship that Pancho had defied so unsuccessfully. For Machado the intervening period has seen a steady climb to power and wealth as the dictator's right-hand and as the country's drug lord.

The novel follows the stories of the two men. When the dictator dies, Machado makes his play for supreme power and Pancho is released under amnesty into a world he hardly recognises. Pancho journeys through a country now riven by civil unrest as Machado and his rival the vice-president fight it out. But whilst it is a physical journey, Pancho's journey is also in some ways a modern-day secular pilgrim's progress. Pancho encounters a series of temptations on his travels in his search for political and personal enlightenment.

The descriptions of the landscape of South America are top notch and made all the more powerful because the land itself contains a magic which reflects what is happens. Such an approach can be a sloppy easy device to develop atmosphere, but here it is genuine magic realism.

One criticism - I don't think the cover works for this reflective piece of magic realism. Yes, the city of San Porforio and the wider country are torn apart by war and conflict, but this is not a war novel as such. It is so much more.

I thank the author for giving me a review copy in return for a fair review.


Saturday, 27 August 2016

Interview with Bianca Gubalke


Who are your favourite magic realist authors and why? 
As far as I can think back, my main interests, besides my love for Nature, were always the Arts and Spiritual Healing. This lead to studies of Shamanism following teachers like Michael Harner, where we naturally worked with another ‘reality’ – which was something I knew from the San people in the Kalahari of South Africa.

At that time, I was also drawn to the fascinating work of Carlos Castaneda. Here, the ‘magic’ in form of a search for power came in. It stunned me as it was not in synch with what a true shaman – who is a healer – aspires to. It appears that real insights were drawn from other sources and traditions, but Castaneda knew how to write and package the message, and he did something else: He put himself into the story.

Much later, my film editor gave me a small book that was so special, that I went all the way to London to get the adaptation rights. The author was a Nigerian writer: Amos Tutuola. It may be my African heritage – although my cultural roots are also firmly grounded in Europe – but this vivid, extraordinary writing with its special rhythm immediately resonated with me, and I still enjoy it today.

Of course, I could not resist Joanne Harris’ strong and sensuous ‘magical woman’ (‘magical mother’) and her culinary temptations, blown by the wind into a rigid little French town, where she opens – of all names - ‘La Céleste Praline’ opposite a . . . church! Played by my favourite actress, Juliette Binoche, this was an absolute treat. As a magical realism story, ‘Chocolat’ has much more depth than it seems.

What is your all-time favourite magic realist book? 
Bearing in mind that there are so many books I still want to read, so far, my all-time favourite magic realist book is: The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola.

Why do you write magic realism? 
I did not set out to write a magic realism novel.

I wrote my story for a young girl who deeply cares about Nature and its survival, bearing in mind that everything is a reflection. And I wrote it for baby boomers, who are too busy on treadmills to stop and reflect on life’s most important questions, who now panic as their own transition draws closer. In the end, my mission is always to heal.

As a hypnotherapist, we work on different levels with each patient. While always aware of the ‘here’ and ‘now’, we work with the subconscious. We’re here and there – whereby ‘there’ is like a gap between thoughts. It’s a natural process; the patient is always in control. This can be taken much further during past life regression, where one moves beyond the death experience into other lives and even existences that are a far cry from what we consciously know. While this process takes place in our known world, our so-called ‘reality’, it has a perceived ‘magical’ component for some, that is exploited on stage in a totally misleading way.

Also, all my creative work as a screenplay writer or filmmaker included different ‘realities’ – and so does my debut novel. Life’s mundane fabric contains many strings of magic – not as a mere decoration, but as a part of it. So when my editor suggested ‘Magical Realism’ as the appropriate genre, it immediately made sense.

Can you give us your definition of magic realism? 
I’ve read many definitions for magic realism, none of which I truly resonate with. Maybe it’s because I cannot imagine a reality without magic? The following thought – based on a quote from the Bible, John 17:14-15 – is an attempt to express what I feel: In magical realism, as a literary genre, we play with the notion that we are in the world, but not of it. This awareness can lift or defeat us; it can be used to harm or to heal. 

Tell us about your latest magic realist book? 

It's called The Immortal Life of Piu Piu 

Description
Set in a land of shifting realities – the Western Cape coast of South Africa, between Nature's paradise and a ruthless world – and based on the heartbreaking true story of a human-animal bond, this magical journey reveals how a young girl and the wild creatures who are her constant guides, join in the ultimate adventure: to reveal the mystery of life after death.

The Main Characters

  • Pippa - A natural born leader who joins forces with wild creatures and natural scientists, long dead, to unlock the mystery of the invisible world. She seeks KNOWLEDGE. 
  • Piu Piu - An experiment, a catalyst – and the happiest Egyptian goose on earth until the Unthinkable happens and destroys her world. She seeks FREEDOM. 
  • Charlot - The shadow, hunter, killer – he's always there, right behind you! So be warned: He's ruthless in a ruthless world. He wants . . . FOOD. At least, it seems so . . . 

About the Novel
We all know about the surge of interest in the survival of consciousness after death as millions of baby boomers face their own mortality. All this is reflected in popular TV shows and movies, as well as trailblazing videos on the Web. The fact is that life's fast pace and our personal fears often keep us from addressing the most important of existential questions, which can cost us our emotional wellbeing, happiness and health, and we may not pass on the right message to our children. This is where this enchanting tale – with its touching human-animal bonds, that awaken a sense of care and guardianship for the Earth – fills the gap. As you follow the hero's journey of self-discovery, spiritual awakening, personal transformation and healing, discover how your feelings are the key to your eternal soul: 'What you are not the vibration of remains invisible to you.'

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Out of the Darkness by Katy Hogan


Following the sudden death of her beloved mother, Jessica Gibson's world falls apart. But after meeting a man who seems heaven-sent, she starts to feel she has something to live for again, and soon discovers that their connection holds far more significance than she could ever have imagined. And when Jessica strikes an unlikely bond with Alexandra Green, the two new friends are taken on an emotional journey into the world of the supernatural, where psychic mediums pass on messages from beyond the grave. What -- or who -- is causing the strange goings-on in Alex's home? What secret is she keeping from Jessica? And who is the young woman who so badly needs their help? In a series of surprising twists and turns, the pieces of the puzzle finally fall into place and a mystery is unwittingly solved -- with life-changing consequences for all involved.
 

'Out of the Darkness' is an uplifting tale of friendship and redemption; of love and loss. And life...after death.
Goodreads description

I am accustomed to reviewing magic-realist fiction that hails from non-Western cultures that accept the spirit world interacting with that of the living. But what about magic realism from the UK that does the same? Is that the same? Some people might argue that it is not the same - that belief in spirits is not part of the Anglo-Saxon tradition, that this is a literary device or maybe part of the ghost story genre. But they would be wrong. There are many people in the UK and US who are believers in the spirit world and its guides.  

As Katy Hogan explains in a postscript at the end of the book, her mother believed in tarot cards and other psychic phenomena. Hogan's own experiences re-enforced her beliefs and inspired the book. The fact that the spiritual element in the book is based on the genuine beliefs of the author gives this book an interesting alternative feel. 

This is a gentle story, which focuses on the three central female characters and their growing relationship with each other. All three are steered by the spirit of a young man. Who that young man was/is and what his relationship to the women was/is form a key part of the story arc. There are of course some tear-filled moments in the novel - keep a box of tissues handy - but inevitably there is an uplifting ending. After all, the novel starts with the line: Love will always find the way, until we meet again some day...

I received this book free from the author in return for a fair review. 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Upright Heart by Julia Ain-Krupa


The Upright Heart chronicles the return from Brooklyn of a Jewish man, Wolf, to his native Poland soon after World War II. He is haunted by the memory of his Catholic lover, Olga, whom he abandoned to marry a woman of his own faith and start a new life in America, and who perished sheltering the parents and younger sister he left behind. Harassed on the streets of postwar Poland, Wolf is watched over by the spirits of those who died during and after the war but have yet to let go. His story is woven together with those of others, living and dead, Catholic and Jew, including the deceased students of a school for girls, a battalion of fallen German soldiers, and an orphan boy who wanders the streets of Krakow, believing in a magic pill he has conjured up as a way to survive.


Goodreads description

The war is over, but the suffering is not. Not for the living, nor for the dead. Dead and living exist in a state of limbo, all trying to move on. The living with their lives and the dead from the world they now inhabit as ghosts. 

Julia Ain-Krupa weaves a lyrical, dreamlike novel of intermeshed stories. The narrative shifts from one point of view to another and from first to third-person voices. Often the point of view is not easy to identify immediately and the reader must rely on picking up clues. This can be distracting, but it is usually best to go with the flow and not worry about it. The disorienting effect is probably deliberate, reflecting as it does the circles of limbo in which the characters exist. The story does move forward, even if at times this is not apparent. And for most of the characters there is a resolution of some kind by the end of the novel. 

This is not an easy book to read and not every reader will enjoy it. First there is the bleakness of the subject matter  - Holocaust literature isn't for everyone. And secondly there is the style. 

I have read and reviewed several magic-realist novels that deal with the Holocaust. Most recently there was In the Land of Armadillos by Helen Maryless Shapiro. You will find an interesting insight into Magic Realism and the Holocaust on Helen's blog here.  I must say I preferred Helen's approach to the Holocaust to Julia Ain-Krupa's. Stylistically The Upright Heart is similar to that of A Kingdom of Souls by Daniela Hodrová, which likewise presents a world in which the dead exist alongside the living. It is interesting to note the similarity in cover design. However Hodrova's novel is grounded in a place (a house overlooking a cemetery in Prague), which gives it a framework that The Upright Heart lacks. 
 
Reviewing has made me familiar with several outstanding examples of Holocaust literature and how magic realism can throw light on the subject. This book therefore was not as much as a surprise for me as it might be for others. But for most readers its approach will be new and very different to that of much of the Holocaust literature one sees on bookstore shelves. 

I receive this book free from the publisher in return for a fair review.

Monday, 8 August 2016

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin by Stephanie Knipper


Sisters Rose and Lily Martin were inseparable when they were kids. As adults, they've been estranged for years, until circumstances force them to come together to protect Rose's daughter. Ten-year-old Antoinette has a severe form of autism that requires constant care and attention. She has never spoken a word, but she has a powerful gift that others would give anything to harness: she can heal things with her touch. She brings wilted flowers back to life, makes a neighbor's tremors disappear, changes the normal course of nature on the Kentucky flower farm where she and her mother live.

Antoinette's gift, though, puts her own life in danger, as each healing comes with an increasingly deadly price. As Rose—the center of her daughter's life—struggles with her own failing health, and Lily confronts her anguished past, they, and the men who love them, come to realize the sacrifices that must be made to keep this very special child safe.

Goodreads description

The wounded healer is an archetype that can be found throughout literature and is fundamental to Jungian approach to psychotherapy. Generally this is an archetype that applies to adults - the doctor who chooses to heal because of the experience of illness in his past or indeed the detective who is drawn to the job because of an unsolved crime in her personal life. There is, however,  another take on this where there is no choice, where the ability to heal others is a "gift" given to the healer who is themselves wounded or damaged. In such a case the healer is often, but not always, a child. This is in line with the image of a miracle-working healer who needs to be innocent. We have seen this child as healer elsewhere in this blog, most recently in  Robin Gregory's The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman.

There are three central characters in this novel - the two sisters (Rose and Lily) and Antoinette. The chapters flick between their points of view and stories, also moving backwards and forwards in time to provide the full picture of their relationships.  Sisterhood is a central theme of the book. Although Rose and Lily have become estranged, they still love each other with a depth that is only possible between siblings. They are very different from each other - Rose the artistic, outgoing one and Lily the mathematical and introverted one. Indeed Lily is so introverted that she too has autistic tendencies - the obsessive need to count objects at the time of stress being one. Because of this, she is both afraid of dealing with Antoinette and yet has much in common with her. 

Stephanie Knipper bravely starts the story with a chapter seen from Antoinette's point of view. Although the book description above says that Antoinette is autistic, the author's position on Antoinette's condition is not clear - indeed when Lily asks about the doctors' diagnosis, she is told:  At first they thought it was autism, but that never fit. She's affectionate....It's like she's locked in her body and can't get out. Another major theme of the book is being different. At times Antoinette is described by minor characters as "retarded", which annoys Antoinette and her family. She is different, but so too is Lily. So too are all of us, each in our own way.

Although The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin is patently a weepy and readers should approach it with Kleenex in hand, I didn't find myself crying. I am not sure why. It is not because I am averse to a bit sobbing over my kindle, I am. Maybe it's because at times the plot twists were predictable (that's the problem with dealing with archetypes). Maybe it was because this is at its heart a feel-good story, with all the characters, even the minor ones, being well meaning. I like my fiction harder-nosed. But that is my problem. A lot of readers are going to love this book.

I received this novel from the publisher in return for a fair review.


Sunday, 31 July 2016

Magic Realism in Russia



Over on my blog Adventures in the Czech Republic I blogged about Czech magic realism and how Slavic folklore influenced Czech national identity and with it magic realism.

This post brings you a fascinating Library of Congress video of a lecture by Oksana Marafioti about another Slavic country, Russia.  In this video the impact of Russian folk beliefs and religions (ancestor worship, shamanism and orthodox Christianity) on magic realism is outlined.

As the readers of this blog will be aware, I am a fan of Russian magic realism. Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin was a recent highlight for me and absolutely fits with the thesis of the video lecture.

The video is an hour long and worth every minute of your time.



Friday, 29 July 2016

Magic Realism Writers From Around The World

For this year's bloghop I am concentrating on the international nature of magic realism. One of the joys of this blog has been reading books by writers from all over the world. When I updated the list of books in my collection here, I was struck by how many countries were represented. What follows is drawn from that list. 

I have not included writers whose books are from the mainstream Anglo Saxon tradition. The blue links take you to reviews on the blog. 

Carlos Acosta - Cuba
Chingiz Aitmatov - Russian Kyrgyzstani
Michal Ajvaz  - Czech 
Rabih Alameddine - Lebananese 
Kathleen Alcala - Mexican American (Jewish)
Sherman Alexie - First Nation American
Dean Francis Alfar - Filipino
Edwar Al-Kharrat - Egyptian
Ibrahim al-Koni - Libyan
Isabel Allende - Chilean
Jorge Amado - Brazilian
Rudolfo Anayo - Chicano American
Mario De Andrade - Brazilian
Marie Arana - Peruvian
Reinaldo Arenas - Cuban
Miguel Angel Asturias - Guatemalan
Bernardo Atxaga - Spanish Basque
Marcel Ayme - French
Fadi Azzam - Syrian
Chitra Banejee Divakaruni - Indian American
Michel Basilieres - Canadian
Bertice Berry - African American
Ingrid Betancourt - French Argentinian
Lauren Beukes - South African
Maxim Biller - German (born in Czech Republic)
Adam Bodor  - Transylvanian Hungarian
Jorge Luis Borges - Argentinian
Hafid Bouazza - Moroccan Dutch
Andre Brink - South African
Italo Calvino - Italian
Cuca Canals  - Spanish
James Canon - Columbian
Alejo Carpentier - Cuban
Mircea Cartarescu - Rumanian
Adolfo Bioy Casares - Argentinian
Carlos Castaneda - Peruvian-born American
Rosario Castellanos - Mexican
Ana Castillo - Mexican-American Chicano
Joao Cerqueira - Portuguese
Patrik Chamoiseau - French Martinique
Pia Chaudhury - Indian British
Yi Chung-jun - South Korean
Paul Coelho - Brazilian
Julio Cortazar - Argentinian
Mia Couto - Mozambiquan
Marie Darrieussecq - French
Junot Diaz - Dominican
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni - Indian American
Jose Donoso - Chilean
Kerstin Ekman - Swedish
Mikhail Elizarov  - Russian
Louise Erdrich - Native American
Mario Amparo Escandon - Mexican American
Laura Esquivel - Mexican
Heinz Insu Fenkl - Korean American
Carlos Fuentes - Mexican 
Romulo Gallegos - Venezuala
Cristina Garcia - Cuban
Elena Garro - Mexican
Aleksandar Gatalica - Serbian
Zulfikar Ghose - Pakistani American
Gogol - Russian
Hiromi Goto - Japanese Canadian
Gunter Grass - German
Jiri Grusa - Czech
Xiaolu Guo - Chinese British
Suentra Gupta - Indian
Abdulrazak Gurnah - Tanzanian
Katherina Hagena - German
Knut Hamsun - Norwegian
Thomas Olde Heuvelt - Dutch
Daniela Hodrova - Czech
Peter Hoeg - Danish
Tess Uriza Holthe - Filipino American
Nalo Hopkinson  - Jamaican Canadian
Witi Ihimaera - New Zealand (Maori)
G Cabrera Infante - Cuban
Anosh Irani - Indian 
Hamid Ismailov - Uzbek
Mette Jakobsen - Danish
Pai Ilmari Jaaskelainen - Finish
Tahar Ben Jelloun - Moroccan
Cynthia Kadohata - Japanese American
Franz Kafka - Czech 
Jonas Karlsson - Swedish
Raj Kamal Jha - Indian
Hiromi Kawakami - Japanese
Daniel Kehlmann - German and Austrian
Porochist Khakpour - Iranian American
Daniil Kharms - Russian
Thomas King - American Canadian 
Laszlo Krasnahorkai - Hungarian
Guus Kuijer - Dutch
Milan Kundera - Czech
Eka Kurniawan - Indonesian
Antoine Laurain  - French
Halldor Laxness - Icelandic
Peter Tieryas Liu - Asian American
Jose Lezama Lima - Cuban
Mario Vargas Llosa - Peruvian
Rani Manicka - Malaysian
Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Columbian
Carole Martinez - French
Tomas Eloy Martinez - Argentinian
Rohinton Mistry - Indian-born Canadian
Mayra Montero - Cuban
Shani Mootoo - born in Dublin, raised in Trinidad, lives in Canada 
Pat Mora - Mexican American
Harry Mulisch - Dutch
Haruki Murakami - Japanese
Nabokov - Russian
Gina Barkhordar Nahai - Jewish Iranian
Bahiyyih Nakhjavani - Born Iranian,  grew up in Uganda and now lives in France
Andres Neuman - Spanish Argentinian
Tea Obreht - Bosniak Serbian
Silvina Ocampo - Argentinian
Kenzaburo Oe - Japanese
Nnedi Okorafor - Nigerian American
Ben Okri - Nigerian
Helen Oyeyemi - Nigerian British
Vikram Paralkar - Indian American
Nii Ayikwei Parkes - Ghanaian
Shahrnush Parsipur - Iranian
Milorad Pavic - Serbian
Victor Pelevin - Russian
Miroslav Penkov - Bulgarian
Ludmilla Petrusevskaya - Russian
Stepan Pisakhov - Russian
Salvador Plascencia - Mexican American
Manuel Puig - Argentinian
Christopher Ransmayr - Austrian
Dolores Redondo - Spanish Basque
Darcy Ribeiro - Brazilian
Philomena van Rijswijk - Australia
Manuel Rivas - Spanish
Carolina De Robertis - Uraguayan - American
Eden Robinson  - First Nation Canadian
Arundhati Roy - Indian
Juan Rulfo - Mexico
Salman Rushdie - British Indian
Preeta Samarasan - Malaysian
Jose Saramago  - Portuguese
Patricia Schonstein - South African
Ekaterina Sedia - Russian
Erick Setiawan - Indonesian
Elif Shafak - Turkish
Ryhaan Shah - Indo-Guyanese
Meir Shalev - Israeli
Anton Shammas - Palestinian
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi - Indian
Leslie Marmon Silko - First Nation American
Sjon - Icelandic
Sasha Sokolov - Russian
Manil Suri - Indian American
Noemi Szecsi - Hungarian
Antonio Tabucchi - Italian
Paco Ignacio Taibo - Mexican
Ngugi Na Thiongo - Kenyan
Tim Tingle - First Nation American
Tatyana Tolstaya - Russian
Amos Tutuola - Nigerian
Luis Alberto Urrea - Mexican American
Luis Valenzuela - Argentinian
Carl Johan Vallgren - Swedish
Miklos Vamos - Hungarian
Vassilis Vassilikos - Greek
Alfredi Vea - Mexican Yaqui Filipino American
Carlos Velasquez - Mexican
Juan Pablo Villalobos - Mexican
Eugene Vodolazkin  - Russian
Katern Tei Yamashita - Japanese American
Mo Yan - Chinese
Tiphanie Yanique - Virgin Islander
Yorgi Yatromanolakis - Greek 
Banana Yoshimoto - Japanese
Serhiy Zhadan - Ukrainian
Yousef Ziedan - Egyptian

Tomorrow I will bring you a video about Russian magic realism.