Posts Tagged ‘Magical Realism’

Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician by Daniel Wallace

November 7, 2014

There is precious little that can be said about this book without spoiling some or all of it. But if Vertigo taught us anything it’s that sometimes, even if you know where you’re going to end up, you still want to know how you get there. Here we go.

Henry Walker, an African-American magician (who may or may not be African-American) now fallen on hard times, is haunted by the Faustian deal (if that’s really what it was) he made as a 10 year-old boy with a mysterious man man who introduced himself as Mr. Sebastian (who may or may not have been the devil incarnate). This is a story about magic–stage magic, tricks with cards and doves and fire–so nothing is as it seems. Not even the magic.

In true Daniel Wallace fashion, the story is not so much told as it is shaped out of things done and left undone. The truth of Henry Walker’s life probably (possibly) lies somewhere between the different versions of the story of his life–stories he told and which are now retold. Rudy the Strong Man’s story parallels and overlaps with JJ the Barker’s story and Jenny the Ossified Girl’s story, which shape out some of Henry’s past, and a late-arriving private detective with a story of his own succeeds in clearing away the last of the fog and mirrors. But it may be too little too late, as Henry himself has disappeared (so think, then, of the tales told at a funeral).

It’s a Southern gothic fairy-tale, told in many voices, complete with a traveling circus, magic (which may or may not be real magic), and a deal with the devil (maybe). But this is no magic trick itself. There is no illusion at its end.  Rather, we learn how the trick was done, which breaks the spell.

Then there is only a stripping away, a sad decay that reveals plainness and ordinariness under peeling paint.

The illusion is that there was an illusion at all.

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Daniel Wallace will be visiting the West Regional Library on Thursday, November 13 @ 7 p.m.  Click here to register.

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

October 15, 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava LavenderAva spins a tale of how she, who was “just a girl,” happened to be born with a huge set of wings. To truly tell the story, she has to go back three generations to her great-grandmother, Maman, who moved from France to “Manhatine” to follow her husband’s dream, and then to the story of her grandmother, Emilienne, and her mother, Vivianne. All of these women were cursed in romance. It seemed that they fell in love quite often, but rarely with the right man, and even then, once they had a child, their lover would either die or run away. So the women depended on one another and raised their children alone—at least on this plane of existence.

Ava and her foremothers eke out a living, running a bakery and living together in a lonely house with a bizarre history. Ava stays indoors almost all the time, just so that she can avoid other people’s sometimes startling reaction to her wings. While she is afraid that some people may hurt her because of her difference, others may be obsessed with her for more sinister reasons. All she wants to be is a regular girl.

Walton writes a story filled with magical realism. One of Emilienne’s sisters was utterly besotted with a musician who barely knew that she existed. Her love transformed her into a canary, hopeful that her beloved would be enraptured by her music, but now he noticed her even less. Relatives who have died tend to return in strange forms, and the living often have powers that most people would call superstition. The lines between living and dead, reality and illusion, are gossamer-thin. The writing is exquisitely beautiful, but some of the situations are too mature for most teenagers. However, adults and older teens who love Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or Isabelle Allende’s House of the Spirits will be enthralled with Ava Lavender. Highly recommended.

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The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

October 14, 2014

The AlchemistThis book is about a shepherd boy who takes risks and endures hardship to pursue his dream. At first, it reads like a simple fable written for a child, and the pace of the story developed ever so slowly. I had to read it for a book discussion so I stuck to it. Oh, how it has paid off! What a beautiful and purposeful book, just when I needed it: be patient and focus!

The Alchemist offers inspiration in such a way as if it has awakened the deep sleep of a hibernating bear that has finally felt hunger for food (spiritual food) and wanted to roar (come alive) again. It connects one back to an earlier life of an innocent age. Of a questing soul of a brave and pure spirit. Coelho knows I am not the only one who feels this way, even he is from Brazil, half the world away.

The Alchemist is a brilliantly crafted book with vivid descriptions of culture, people, and scenery to fill the imagination of any reader. It has been translated into 80 languages. We may be distracted with earthly desires or duties; it is never too late to feel young and ambitious again.

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Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

July 18, 2014

Like Water for ChocolateWelcome to post-revolution northern Mexico, at the turn of the 20th century, the dry, violent land of Pancho Villa, on the border with the United States. Tita is the last-born daughter of a wealthy hacienda owner/widow; as the last-born daughter, her role is to remain unmarried to care for her mother, a nasty control freak who is destined to make Tita’s life as miserable as possible. Stifled in the kitchen and in her role as unmarried daughter, Tita manages to communicate through the food she creates. Any emotions she feels – anger, love, sadness–are conveyed in the traditional Mexican cuisine she prepares for her family. Tita is in love with Pedro. They wish to marry, but Tita’s mother squelches that idea and marries Tita’s sister Rosaura to Pedro. Tita is crushed, and the story chronicles Tita’s lifetime love for Pedro, most unrequited.

Esquivel is one of the best magical realism authors around, and she melds a captivating story that is rich in dialogue, character, and setting. Mexico City-native Esquivel worked in television programming before writing Like Water for Chocolate, her first novel. Her settings are especially evocative, and it is no surprise that the novel was made into a movie in the 1990’s. Esquivel is an effective observer of social roles of women, vis a vis the role of women in the Mexican home. The translation is full and one need not know anything about Mexican history or society to enjoy this novel, as the themes of family tension, love, and jealousy are universal, and the novel is not chock full of regional references; any references are fully explained, as in the history of the recipes that Tita prepares. This is an older novel, but one that I re-read every now and then because, like Tita’s cooking, it is rich and evocative.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

March 20, 2014

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness casts a spell with its use of magical realism. Set in modern day England, it appears to be a realistic story, but incorporates elements like shape-shifting, that are more often seen in fantasy and myth.  George Duncan owns a moderately successful printing shop in London.  It is his misfortune to be such a nice guy that women are attracted to him, but eventually move on to someone more interesting, leaving him quite lonely.  One night he finds an injured crane and sees that it has an arrow through its wing.  He carefully removes the arrow and the crane flies away.  The next day a lovely, but mysterious woman named Kumiko arrives at his shop.  She is an artist and they find that when she adds some of his paper cuttings to her artwork, people are so moved by the results they will pay huge sums of money to own one of their panels.  George is soon smitten with Kumiko and together they start working on a set of panels inspired by a tale that Kumiko begins to tell.  It is a tale of long lasting love and terrible anger that may reveal Kumiko’s secrets.

If this story sounds a bit familiar up to this point, it may be because it is patterned after the Japanese folktale of the crane wife.  In the folktale, a poor man finds an injured crane and nurses it back to health.  When the crane leaves, a beautiful woman comes to his door and they marry.  She weaves beautiful silks in secret, making them rich.  The man becomes greedy and peeks in to see his wife weaving.  He is surprised to see that she is weaving a bit of herself, her feathers, into the silk.  The crane sees him and flies away, never to return.  Ness expands upon this tale, using it to tell us about the nature of loneliness, forgiveness, and love in this entrancing novel.

Fans of magical realism might also enjoy Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen or Chocolat by Joanne Harris.

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Greatest Hits: The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

January 7, 2014

We’ve kicked off the new year with The Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2013!
Mythical and mystical, The Mistress of Spices is reminiscent of fables, magic, realism and fairy tales. The storyDivakaruni tells is transporting, but it is her gift for metaphor that makes this novel live and breathe. You feel like you are involved with the characters; its pages as redolent as any freshly ground spice. The themes revolve around the age-old magic of spices, which are imbued with powers as complexly spiritual as India itself, the birthplace of Divakaruni and her fearless heroine, Nayan Tara (Tilo). Born ugly and unwanted in a tiny village in India, Tilo is discarded by her family for the sin of being a girl. Resentful at being treated so shabbily, young Tilo throws herself on the mercy of the mythical serpents of the oceans, who deliver her to the mystical Island of Spices. There, she is initiated into the priestly sisterhood of Spice Mistresses, sent out into the world to help others by offering magic potions of fennel, peppercorn, lotus root, etc. She works her gentle magic in a tiny, rundown shop in Oakland, California, hidden within the body of an old woman. Here, Tilo devotes herself to improving the lives of the immigrant Indians who come to buy her spices–including an abused wife, a troubled youth, a chauffeur with dreams of American wealth, and a grandfather whose insistence on Old World propriety may have cost him his relationship with a beloved granddaughter. The spices are harsh taskmasters, and Tilo’s life is limited until her rebelliousness reasserts itself, and she becomes involved in the lives of her troubled customers. Tilo is forbidden to step out of her little shop or get involved with anyone, but of course Tilo goes out and gets involved with her customers. She falls in love with Raven, the quintessential romantic hero–dashing, handsome, rich, and brooding–but Raven actually embodies nothing less than the great spirit of the American Indian. Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Farida B’s Picks

December 19, 2013

I love a variety of books in the adult and children’s collection, including Fantasy, Mystery, Humor, Romance, and gentle clean reads. My picks for the 5 best new to us books in 2013 – presented in no particular order, certainly reflect my reading tastes.

The Innocent by David Baldacci
The Innocent is David Baldacci’s first novel in Will Robie Series. This is a fast paced, plot driven suspense story. Will Robie is a stone cold ruthless hit man. He always kills his given targets without asking any questions.  The story starts with Robie traveling to Scotland to kill his assigned target. On each job he has to plan and memorize each step he will have to make to do his job and stay alive. If he makes one mistake, he will lose his life.  When he gets his target, he heads back home.  Next Robie is assigned to eliminate a target close to home, which is unusual – normally he has to travel far away to do his job. When he enters the home of the target at night, he finds that it’s a woman, who is sleeping with a small child.  Unable to shoot the woman with the child so near, he defies orders and leaves without completing his mission.  He has just made the biggest mistake of his life. Now, he is the target and has to escape from his own people.

Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 
Mythical and mystical, Mistress of Spices is reminiscent of fables, magic, realistic and fairy tales. The story Divakaruni tells is transporting, but it is her gift for metaphor that makes this novel live and breathe, you feel like you are involved with the characters, its pages as redolent as any freshly ground spice. It revolves around the age-old magic of spices, which are imbued with powers as complexly spiritual as India itself, the birthplace of Divakaruni and her fearless heroine, Tilo. Born ugly and unwanted in a tiny village in India, Nayan Tara (“Flower That Grows by the Dust Road”) is virtually discarded by her family for the sin of being a girl. Resentful at being treated so shabbily, young Nayan Tara throws herself on the mercy of the mythical serpents of the oceans, who deliver her to the mystical Island of Spices. There, she is initiated into a priestly sisterhood of Spice Mistresses sent out into the world to help others, offering magic potions of fennel, peppercorn, lotus root, etc.  Read my full review.

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
Fannie Flagg takes readers to Elmwood Springs, Missouri, where the most unlikely and surprising experiences of a high-spirited lady Mrs. Elner Shimfissle inspire a town to ponder the age-old question “Why are we here?” If you have read any of her books, they are full of southern warmth, emotion and funny episodes. She is the author of the famous book turned into movie Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. Elner is up on a ladder again picking figs when she accidentally pokes a wasps’ nest in her fig tree and falls down.  Waking up in the hospital emergency room, she wonders how she got there. Elner’s nervous niece Norma faints when she hears of Aunt Elner being in hospital. This is not the first time that Aunt Elner has fallen from the ladder. Now Aunt Elner is worried about facing Norma since she had promised not to climb the ladder again.  But what can she do? All she wanted was to make a jar of fig preserves for the nice woman who had brought her a basket of tomatoes.

The Man You’ll Marry by Debbie Macomber
Debbie Macomber writes Contemporary romance which is heartwarming and engaging. If you like to read some clean cozy romance than this is the author you should pick. This title contains two different stories of the Wedding dress. The first part is called “The First Man you Meet.” The second part is called “The Man You’ll Marry.” The wedding dress was made many years ago, and it came with a promise: “The First Man You Meet will be the Man you will Marry!” Shelly Hansen did not want to get married to anyone. She was happy to stay single and work on her career.  She was horrified when her great-aunt’s wedding dress arrived, according to family legend, she was destined to marry the next man she met. On the same day when she tripped on an escalator and fell into Mark Brady’s arms, she told him and herself that she wasn’t interested in marriage. But then she started seeing him everywhere. She met him at a lawyer’s office, at the beach. It was almost like she was following him. Read my full review.

The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
The Surgeon is a top-grade thriller from Gerritsen, a former internist who gave up the stethoscope to raise kids and chills. ER trauma surgeon Catherine Cordell first met the killer, called “The Surgeon” by Boston newspapers, down in Savannah, where she was his last victim. Luckily for Catherine, after being raped she got a hand free from the cord binding her to the bed, cut herself loose with a scalpel, reached under her bed, grabbed a pistol, and seemingly killed Andrew Capra, the inept medical student about to pluck out her womb. Unable to bear Savannah, where everyone seemed to know she’d been raped, Catherine transferred to Boston, holed up for nearly two years, then took a job as a trauma surgeon without disclosing her past.  Good grief! More wombless bodies start showing up in Boston. Did she really kill Andrew? This is the first book in Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles series. Read my full review.

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

June 7, 2013

Mythical and mystical, The Mistress of Spices is reminiscent of fables, magic, realism and fairy tales. The story Divakaruni tells is transporting, but it is her gift for metaphor that makes this novel live and breathe. You feel like you are involved with the characters; its pages as redolent as any freshly ground spice. The themes revolve around the age-old magic of spices, which are imbued with powers as complexly spiritual as India itself, the birthplace of Divakaruni and her fearless heroine, Nayan Tara (Tilo).

Born ugly and unwanted in a tiny village in India, Tilo is discarded by her family for the sin of being a girl. Resentful at being treated so shabbily, young Tilo throws herself on the mercy of the mythical serpents of the oceans, who deliver her to the mystical Island of Spices. There, she is initiated into the priestly sisterhood of Spice Mistresses, sent out into the world to help others by offering magic potions of fennel, peppercorn, lotus root, etc. She works her gentle magic in a tiny, rundown shop in Oakland, California, hidden within the body of an old woman. Here, Tilo devotes herself to improving the lives of the immigrant Indians who come to buy her spices–including an abused wife, a troubled youth, a chauffeur with dreams of American wealth, and a grandfather whose insistence on Old World propriety may have cost him his relationship with a beloved granddaughter. The spices are harsh taskmasters, and Tilo’s life is limited until her rebelliousness reasserts itself, and she becomes involved in the lives of her troubled customers.

Tilo is forbidden to step out of her little shop or get involved with anyone, but of course Tilo goes out and gets involved with her customers. She falls in love with Raven, the quintessential romantic hero–dashing, handsome, rich, and brooding–but Raven actually embodies nothing less than the great spirit of the American Indian.

Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

April 4, 2012

In the good news of Luke, humans have all kinds of difficulties recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. The demons, however, see it instantly. “You are the Son of God!” they shout, but Jesus rebukes them. He would “not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.” (Luke 4:41.)

To Satan, nothing is more ridiculous than the notion that there is no God, so obviously the Evil One finds the Soviet Union a laughable endeavor. A state that claims that religions, myths, legends, and all things supernatural are simply invented in order to oppress the proletariat – what could be more absurd than that?

In the 1930s, professor Woland, a black magician, enters the city of Moscow, the capital of Soviet Union, and he encounters the editor Berlioz and the poet Ivan. Woland learns that the editor does not believe in Jesus, and this makes Woland worried, as it probably means that Berlioz doesn’t believe in the devil either.

Suddenly, the morning turns to night, the conversation begins to take on puzzling qualities, and eventually Woland claims that a young, Soviet woman will cut Berlioz’s head off.
What?

The editor decides to contact a mental institution to see if they are not missing a patient, but before Berlioz can make the call, he falls under a streetcar and his head is severed. The streetcar operator turns out to be – yes, a young, Soviet woman.

The Master and Margarita mixes slapstick with profound wisdom, theological depth, and sharp criticism of some traits of the young state. It is a mind-boggling tall tale about satanic ventures, the power of love, and the substance of the arts.

Woland is one of the great literary creations of all time, and who or what he is, is up for debate. He appears different to different people and his name has been linked to German names for the devil or a demon (Voland, Faland, etc – Voldemort, anyone?) So perhaps he is Satan. Or Stalin, a foreigner (like Woland) who terrorized the Russians and other Soviet citizens. Or both. And much, much more.

Anyway, he’s not alone. He has a few friends and followers. One of them is a cat, Behemoth. He’s big. Huge, actually. In fact, man-sized. And he walks on his hind legs. And drinks vodka. And wreaks havoc in Moscow. So, Behemoth is evidently not only what he seems to be – a huge cat – but he is also something else. And that’s The Master and Margarita in a nutshell.

See what my colleague, Sarah K., had to say about this book a couple of years ago, too.

Find and reserve this intriguing book in our catalog.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

December 21, 2011

Anyone who has seen the movie version of Practical Magic will utterly underestimate the book.  I like the movie; it is what inspired me to read the book.  However, the movie has got nothing of the magic and power that Hoffman infuses into her book.

Sally and Gillian Owens are sisters come from a long line of peculiar women.  They have been snubbed as witches in their small town for as long as they can remember, something not helped by their aunts side business of love spells.  Gillian solved this by running away as soon as she could and never looking back.  Sally coped by being as normal as possible. After a love spell worked by the aunts leaves Sally a widow with two daughters of her own, she too flees to find her way in the world outside of magic.  Yet, it seems that the two Owens sisters cannot run far or fast enough.  When Gillian shows up on Sally’s doorstep with a dead body, their magic starts cropping up in all the wrong places.  Gillian, Sally, and Sally’s two daughters, Antonia and Kylie, have to find a way to live with each other and the magic that seems to find its way into their lives.

Practical Magic brims with tantalizing magical imagery.  Whether its the scent of lilac bushes that stop women in the tracks or passion so intense is scorches a man’s cuffs, Hoffman has a talent for introducing magic into the everyday world that seems plausible.  The imagery itself is almost magical; I swear I could smell those lilacs as well.

For those who like the movie, the book is different in a good way.  The book is a bit darker and a bit more passionate.  Yet I enjoyed that Hoffman gives a larger part to the two younger Owens sisters, Sally’s daughters, that was not expressed in the movie.  All in all, this was the first Alice Hoffman book I have read, but it won’t be the last.

Find and reserve this magical book in our catalog.


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