Remedios the Beauty represents purity while walking about the Buendía household without wearing a stitch of clothing. Remedios the Beauty, always oblivious to the men who lust after her. And in a magical moment, Remedios the Beauty, while hanging clothes on the line, is suddenly caught up in a brisk wind and ascends into the heavens.
After reading this passage, I was hooked.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize winner for Literature and the best-known writer of what has come to be known as “magical realism,” created Remedios in his masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude. The ascendance of Remedios is the ‘magic.’ The ‘real’ of Remedios may be a story of girls who actually disappeared. Those girls, unmarried and expecting babies, ended up in convents, out of sight of those who would judge them. For me, the breathtaking passage where Remedios ascends will always be bound up in the other story of girls made invisible by circumstances.
Isabel Allende combined ‘magic’ and ‘realism’ in her House of the Spirits—ghosts stand in for strong feelings. Salman Rushdie incorporated the dualistic real/magic in several of his books, and wrote about the concept of magical realism in an article in the New York Times Book Review shortly after Garcia Marquez’s death.
The term ‘magical realism’ is not without controvery—many Latin American writers feel pressured by some to write in Garcia Marquez’s style even as they reject it for their own writing. Many of those who do don’t like the term; I’ve heard suggest ‘hyper-realism’ as a substitute.
It doesn’t matter to me what it’s called, I’m drawn to books that include the fantastical standing in for the real. I frequently insert fantastical elements into my own writing. In The Island of Lost Children, flying and mystery rivers and horses made of sea foam also represent something more profound.
Just recently I finished a lovely book, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. From the very beginning the reader knows that Ava is born with wings, and the presence of wings keeps Ava trapped in her own home because of her mother’s fears for her. The ending is stunning. Through this book, I dipped my toes in a familiar yet alien universe. My review of the novel is here.
I have read many books considered magically realist, among them Beloved by Toni Morrison, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman—who often writes novels considered to be in the magical realism genre—is a book where the fantastical is only an illusion.
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” So begins One Hundred Years of Solitude. The image of ice and its importance in the memory of a man facing the firing squad—those words and similar images made me return to the book not once but three times. I’m not sure the meaning of ice in the world of Macondo, but I’m certain it’s important in conveying something outside the most obvious thing.