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
Alfred Doblin - German
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
Zyranna Zateli - Greek
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

Wednesday 20 July 2016

The Cabin by Smoky Zeidel

James-Cyrus Hoffmann has just inherited his grandfather's farm, and with it a mysterious cabin deep in the woods on Hoffmann mountain, a cabin he has dreamed about since childhood. When James-Cyrus enters the cabin, he is vaulted back through time to the Civil War era, where he meets Elizabeth, the brave young woman who lives there, and Malachi, a runaway slave.

James-Cyrus' neighbor, Cora, knows all too well the tragic history of the cabin. When James-Cyrus tells Cora about Elizabeth, Malachi, and his fantastic vault back through time, the two devise a plan to change the past and right a wrong that has haunted the Hoffmann family for generations. But can they find the key to unlock the past in time to change what history said happened to Elizabeth and Malachi?

Goodreads description

I reviewed Smoky Zeidel's The Storyteller's Bracelet in December: I enjoyed that book and so was very pleased when Smoky offered me a review copy of The Cabin

Time slip is something of a genre or at least subgenre of its own. And there is even a debate to be had whether it falls within magic realism. One of the issues with time slip is how you manage the implications of what happens when someone from the future impacts on the past. The grandfather paradox is well-known: You travel into the past and murder your own grandfather before he sires your mother or your father, and where does that then leave you?  Carl Sagan Ponders Time Travel Smoky Zeidel manages in The Cabin to solve this problem. I won't tell you how, as it will give away too much of the plot resolution.

The structuring of the novel is very artful, with chapters pursuing related storylines set in different times featuring the different generations. This could have been confusing, especially as there were some family names which recurred through the ages, but Smoky Zeidel managed to keep the different strands clear. In fact this weaving of stories across the ages is part of the underlying message and magic of the novel: There was a deep connectedness between mountain women in the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia, a connectedness that transcended the tangible, yet was as real as the forest itself. It was a part of the mountain magic, her grandmother had taught her when she was a young child, and it was particularly strong between Corrine and her sister, Catherine. 

I found the historical and folkloric context of the novel fascinating. As a Brit I was totally unfamiliar with the Native American tradition of fairy stones, and, I confess, I have only limited knowledge of the American Civil War and particularly the Underground Railroad, the network of secret routes and safe houses that allowed slaves to escape to the northern free states. The Hoffmann's cabin is one such safe house and it is also the portal between the different ages. 
This is a well-crafted and entertaining story, easy to read in one or two sittings. 

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

Sunday 10 July 2016

Invaders: 22 Tales from The Outer Limits of Literature

The invasion of the future has begun.

Literary legends including Steven Millhauser, Junot Diáz, Amiri Baraka, and Katharine Dunn have attacked the borders of the every day. Like time traveling mad-scientists, they have concocted outrageous creations from the future. They have seized upon tales of technology gone wrong and mandated that pulp fiction must finally grow up.

In these wildly-speculative stories you will discover the company that controls the world from an alley in Greenwich Village. You’ll find nanotechnology that returns memories to the residents of a nursing home. You’ll rally an avian-like alien to become a mascot for a Major League Baseball team.

The Invaders are here. But did science fiction colonize them first?

 Goodreads description

Whilst these stories are science fiction and not magic realism, many of the writers contributing to the anthology are already authors of magic-realist fiction, who have been invited to try their hands at speculative fiction. The resulting stories are remarkable and fascinating. One of the consequences of asking these literary authors to write sci-fi was there was generally a strong focus on the human element in the stories - relationships, sexual relations and indeed the nature of being human (something particularly appropriate to the sci-fi genre). 

I have reviewed two of the stories already on this blog (The Inner City by Karen Heuler, and LIMBs by Julia Elliott) because they have featured in collections which also contained magic realism.
W.P. Kinsella normally combines baseball stories with magic realism; in Reports Concerning the Death of the Seattle Albatross Are Somewhat Exaggerated he offers a story about an alien living as a baseball maskot. In Monstros Junot Diaz (author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) has created a powerful story about a plague (and zombies) set in the Dominican Republic.

As you will have realized, the stories in the collection are very varied both in subject matter and in tone. This variety is reflected in my personal favourites, which include the aforementioned Kinsella story. While Death of the Seattle Albatross... is amusing and quirky, Fugue State by Brian Evenson and Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders are darker and raise serious questions.

My favourite story was Molly Gloss's short story Lambing Season. As some of you will know, a literary heroine of mine is Ursula Le Guin. She is often categorized as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, but what attracts me to her writing is the ability to explore human nature and explore hard questions. Lambing Season reminded me of Le Guin's writings. It is a beautifully written and extremely human tale, in which a lonely shepherdess encounters an alien. This story is both gentle in touch and profound. 

This collection really explores the outer limits of literature as it claims. I recommend it to you. 

I received this copy of this book free in return for a fair review.


Sunday 3 July 2016

Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Sonokrom, a village in the Ghanaian hinterland, has not changed for thousands of years. Here, the men and women speak the language of the forest, drink aphrodisiacs with their palm wine and walk alongside the spirits of their ancestors. The discovery of sinister remains; possibly human, definitely 'evil'; in a vanished man's hut brings the modern world into the village in the form of Kayo; a young forensic pathologist convinced that scientific logic can shatter even the most inexplicable of mysteries. But as events in the village become more and more incomprehensible, Kayo and his sidekick, Constable Garba, find that Western logic and political bureaucracy are no longer equal to the task in hand. Strange boys wandering in the forest, ghostly music in the night and a flock of birds that come from far away to fill the desolate hut with discarded feathers take the newcomers into a world where, in the unknown, they discover a higher truth that leaves scientific explanations far behind
Goodreads description

It seems to me that detective stories offer excellent opportunities for magic realism, indeed so much so that there seems to be a subgenre of magic-realist mysteries.  This is because detection tends to be seen as rational and even scientific (especially as in this novel, when the central character is a forensic scientist), and these qualities can be counterpointed by the magical element in the story. 

As an exercise I started a list of magic-realist mysteries. It includes:

  • Under the Frangipani by Mia Couto
  • The Dave Robicheaux books by James Lee Burke
  • Colin Cotterill's Dr Siri Paiboun novels
  • The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo
  • The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. by Gina B. Nahai
  • A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry.

  • Of these probably Colin Cotterill's novels are the closest to Tail of a the Blue Bird - both have central characters who are forensic scientists and both operate with native cultures that have strong beliefs in ancestral spirits. In both there is a political element - Dr Siri deals with the communist government of Laos and Kayo (Parkes' young scientist) has to deal with a corrupt system, embodied by the ruthless Inspector Donkor who employs Kayo to come up with the "right" solution to the case. Interestingly this political element is contrasted both with the scientific truth being sought by the protagonists and the magical truth of the ancient beliefs.

    The ages-old world of Sonokrom is vivdly evoked by Parkes' rich language. It is not surprising that he is better known as a poet than as a novelist. The village characters talk in proverbs and folktales, both presented in the Ghanian version of English, without translation. The novel is in many ways a journey into an older and somewhat disorientating world. By taking the reader on this journey Parkes leads to the magic solution to the mystery, which would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the book.

    I really enjoyed this book, which I read in just two sittings.

    Saturday 2 July 2016

    The Magic Realism Bloghop is coming. Sign up here

    Hello fellow bloggers. Yes, it is that time of year again. If you have a blog and are interested in magic realism, then please take part in this year's bloghop. All you have to do is write a post about magic realism on one of the days of the hop and provide a link to the other blogs on the hop (I will send you the link you will need to include via an email).  

    Not sure what to write? Here is the link to the first post in the 2015 bloghop, you will find a list of all the other posts on that hop at the bottom -  

    If you are interested sign up below.  At this stage just add the general link to your blog to the list.  Please publicize the bloghop to your readers - feel free to download and reuse the image above and/or this smaller version: