A Mule on a Piano, Cezanne Hung Upside Down, the Lost Generation Wobbles

Article excerpt

MAGICAL REALITY: Chilean-born novelist Isabel Allende, 57, wrote "The House of the Spirits," "Eva Luna" and several other works of fiction and nonfiction. After a 1973 coup that killed her uncle President Salvador Allende, she fled to Venezuela. Today she lives in San Francisco.

The language of magical realism began with the conquistadors. The Europeans needed new words to describe the lushness and strangeness of this landscape.

The first of the modern magical realists was the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier. The French surrealists would put a sewing machine on a dissecting table; the absurd objects together would cause an event or a juxtaposition to seem surreal. Carpentier, living with the surrealists in France, realized that in Latin America, you don't have to put them together. In Latin America you will find a white mule on a piano.

I am of the first generation of Latin American writers to grow up reading Latin American authors: Borges, Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes. What we have in common, among greatly varying styles, is the inclusion of the invisible world, not ghosts and spirits, but emotions and passions. When I write about spirits, they stand for things. I lost my daughter in 1991, but she is with me every day, not in the shady corners of my house but inside me. This is a way of understanding common among Latin American writers, even those not considered magical realists. When I read "Pedro Paramo," by [Mexican writer] Juan Rulfo, and he describes a man walking through a village with the dead, I know he is not talking about ghosts, he is talking about memory, the presence of the past.

Does magical realism exist outside Latin America? Of course; writers like Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison incorporate magical elements. Strangely, the term has lost its vogue within Latin America. It is not "in" anymore; people reject it everywhere. The exaggeration of magical realism may be over, the use of the term may be fading, but it is in essence only a phrase to describe a world of light and shade, something akin to a painting. This is unlikely to disappear from Latin American literature. This landscape does not disappear. I was recently in Guatemala, where a great many do not speak Spanish. You can go into a cybercafe and check your e-mail, then walk outside and see Indians living in the 17th century.

Reality is more magical than real. I live in California, for God's sake.

Cezanne Hung Upside Down

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