Magazine article Newsweek International

Remedios the Beauty Is Alive and Well

Magazine article Newsweek International

Remedios the Beauty Is Alive and Well

Article excerpt

I just got the news that magical realism is dead. The great literary form that made Latin American literature as popular as the mambo has been assassinated by parricides and I missed it. Should we hold a wake? Does this mean Gabriel Garcia Marquez will be assumed bodily into heaven clutching his great novel, "One Hundred Years of Solitude," in the way his character Remedios the Beauty ascended heavenward clutching two bed sheets?

The most vocal parricide, I've discovered, is Alberto Fuguet, a Chilean-American writer who in 1996 replaced Garcia Marquez's imaginative town of Macondo with his own mock town of McOndo. He says the old theme of Latin American identity, "Who are we?" is out. The new theme, "Who am I?" is in. No more collective epics. McOndo wants down- and-dirty realism about individuals.

Coinage of the phrase "magical realism" was, the last time I looked, credited to Angel Flores of Queens College in New York, and first appeared in a paper he read in New York in 1954. Briefly put, he saw the movement taking shape after World War I in such figures as Kafka and the painter Giorgio di Chirico, with influential ancestors such as Gogol, Poe, Melville and Strindberg. He cited Kafka's influence on Jorge Luis Borges in the latter's 1935 "A Universal History of Infamy" as the start of the trend in Latin America: "With Borges as pathfinder... a group of brilliant stylists developed around him [and]... the general direction was that of magical realism." He saw it as the "transformation of the common and the everyday into the awesome and the unreal... magnificently flowering... and, let us hope, perennial."

In the 1960s the movement's Latin American inheritors exploded with high-quality novels, creating the "Boom"--extraordinary work by, among others, Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, Jose Lezama Lima and Jose Donoso, who wrote a 1972 book about the Boom. With the Boom, magical realism went into orbit.

My first novel, "The Ink Truck" (1969), is a surreal comedy about a disastrous newspaper strike. I knew nothing of magical realism, yet Kafka had already invaded my imagination, as had mystical Gypsies, ghosts from Dickens, Thornton Wilder, Shakespeare, etc. Pirandello's plays, Bunuel's and Bergman's films had galvanized me, as had dreams. So I decided "The Ink Truck" would hover six inches off the ground; not quite a levitating priest, but close. I called it quasi-surreal, not magical realism.

Then in 1970 I reviewed "One Hundred Years of Solitude," the first work I'd read from the Boom, which was not yet so designated. I wrote that it was "the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race. …

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