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.


Monday, 25 July 2016

Children's Children by Jan Carson


Children's Children is a collection of fifteen short stories which cast a darkly humorous and oftentimes acidic eye, over life in post-conflict Northern Ireland. The stories contained in the collection are an eclectic selection of pieces which vary from traditional literary fiction to magic realism and subtle experiments with the short story form. They deal with the theme of legacy; the achievements, issues and problems this generation has inherited from the previous. Disillusioned street preachers, adulterous grocery shoppers, robotic brothers and child burglars are all given voice to express their experiences of life in contemporary Northern Ireland as Carson blurs the line between social commentary and modern parable.
Goodreads description


As the Goodreads description above makes clear not all the short stories in this collection are magic realism, nevertheless a lover of magic realism will find much to enjoy here. There is often a blurring of the edges in these stories, an unusual eye and voice. 

The characters in the stories are mostly ordinary folk, but they have something that sets them apart and makes them struggle. This is reflected in Carson's remarkable ability to write passages that combine the mundane with original and telling observation:
Dr Turner had laughed then, exposing the whiteness of his teeth. They were like tiny fingernails lined along his gums. The taste of coffee came off him every time he opened his mouth, for he was the type of man who leaned too close to women when he spoke.
These passages can be both humorous and dark at the same time.

The most obviously magic-realist story is the one about a mother of a floating six-year old who has to be tethered to the backyard fence to prevent her floating off. Then there is the story of the human statue who is losing the ability to move and impact of his immobility on his marriage. Other stories border on magic realism with an off-beat way of presenting the world, not magic realism but not conventional realism either. For example in one story a man creates an allotment in his box room and in another story a couple's elicit love affair consists entirely of shopping together.

The stories are sometimes allegorical and even political. The most obvious of these is the story Children's Children, in which the last two young people on an island meet the day before they must marry for the good of the island . He is from the northern part and she from the south. But where should they live: If we both move north, we'll upset the balance and tip the island into the sea. 

In addition to these magic realist, allegorical and off-beat pieces, there are some stories which are heartbreakingly realistic. These include stories about a woman's loss of a spouse, a child's view of fighting parents, and a daughter dealing with her mother's dementia.

In contrast to most short story collections, which usually have a few less strong stories among the good, I found all the stories in the collection strong and moving. As a consequence I will look out for a copy of Jan Carson's first novel Malcolm Orange Disappears.

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

Friday, 22 July 2016

Magic Realism Blog Hop 2016 Introduction



On the 29th July the 2016 Magic Realism Blog Hop will start here.

What is the Magic Realism Blog Hop?
The hop is a magical realism mystery tour, with stops at blogposts covering all sorts of subjects - reviews, thoughts about magic-realist fiction, magic-realist art and film, useful information about magic realism, maybe even some original magic-realist fiction.

During the three days until the 31st July at least 25 blogs will feature posts about magic realism and some (including this one) will feature more than one post. At the bottom of each post will be a list of the links to all the other posts on the bloghop. So all you have to do is click on the links to hop around the bloghop and in so doing discover new blogs and bloggers and read a wide range of posts about magic realism. As posts will be added to the list throughout the three days, so do come back to check out what is new.

The history of the Blog Hop
This is the fourth magic realism bloghop. I organised the first in July 2013 on the first anniversary of this blog. As this blog reviews one magic realist book a week, that means that this hop marks 200 books reviewed here. Whilst not officially part of the Blog Hop I have updated my list of magic realism books. It's actually a list of the 700 magic realism books in my collection, so I only have 500 reviews to go (or 10 years of blogging) before I clear my current to-be-read list!

What I will be doing on the Blog Hop.
I am concentrating on the international nature of magic realism over my three blogs. On this blog I will feature two posts (in addition to this one) - on Saturday I will be posting a directory of international magic realism writers and on Sunday about Russian magic realism. On Adventures in the Czech Republic I will be showing how and why magic realism is part of the Czech identity. On ZoeBrooksBooks there will be a magic-realist poem.

Some useful information from previous blog hops
What is Magic Realism - the first post of the first blog hop
Useful Resources for Magic Realism
Free Magic Realism Short Stories and Books