I read Americas right after a three-month slog through The Idiot, and didn’t know what to expect. I knew it was a collection of short stories, with one for each country in North, Central and South America. I didn’t expect to find magical realism. I associate magical realism with South American authors, and with epic novels that follow a family across generations. It was surprising to find it here, though the opening quote from Jorge Luis Borges should have been my first clue.
For those who didn’t study magical realism in school (thanks Mr. Jefferies of Grade 12 IB English), here’s the wikipedia definition:
…an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements blend with the real world. The story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” in the same stream of thought.
Americas starts with Canada and works south. Canada was my favourite, because it was so familiar. Those “A Part of Our Heritage” commercials play a prominent part. I had vivid memories of sitting on my couch at home, watching The Simpsons after school. A nice, safe feeling.
From there, things get weird. Magically weird! By the time I got to Venezuela, I knew something was up. It starts with “In Venezuela, all the children are adopted from South Korea.” In my sleep deprived brain, I actually wondered for a moment if there was some adoption agreement between these countries. Each chapter begins this way; “In [country], [absurd statement].” There’s something really disarming about such a simple structure, and such short stories, taking on the magical realism genre. Chile’s story mixes real life (the Chilean miners who got stuck underground) with the fantastic (window washers stuck in the sky at the same time) and gets it just right.
The stories are really, really short. They’re more like scenes or maybe dream sequences. You will finish this book in one sitting.
Read this if you’re a fan of magical realism. Read this if you want to try magical realism, but are scared of long, translated-from-Spanish family sagas (I don’t blame you.) Four stars!
Further reading: Here are my favorite magical realism books from the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die:
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is in my top five books EVER. I have read this multiple times, and will read it many more. It’s that good. See my post about it here.
100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was forced to read this in grade 12. Everyone in this book has the same name, which is a challenge, but it’s worth it.
Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel. I read this last year in my bid to make it to 100 of the 1,001 books read. It was much quicker, easier, and less dense than the Marquez books, but still has that elusive magical quality.
The House if the Spirits, Isabel Allende. I think I read this for high school English. Mr. Jefferies was kind of into South American literature. This was my least favourite of the bunch, but upon reading the plot summary, I think I need to revisit it. Lots of pregnancy and child birth symbolism!
You eat local. You shop local. Do you read local?
When I’m not reading from the list, I usually come across books by accident – browsing the library or used book store, or a random recommendation – but I love it when a theme emerges. The idea of “reading local” has come up a few times lately:
I won a copy of From Away by Edmonton author Michelle Ferguson from local book blog Eat Books. From Away is about an outsider in a small Nova Scotia community. I have family on Cape Breton Island, and have heard the expression “from away” used to describe not only visitors, but anyone not born on the island, even those who have lived there for twenty plus years.
- A random person tweeted me with a recommendation for Americas by Edmonton author Jason Lee Norman. Americas is a collection of 22 short stories, one for each of the countries in the Americas. This is another case of a local author writing about “away.” I’m looking forward to this one, as short stories sound like the perfect antidote to months of dense Russian drama.
- Another way to read local is to connect with local readers. Fellow book lover Andy Grabia (@agrabia) is organizing a book swap on June 26th where each person must bring a book they loved as a child, a book they loved as a teenager, and a book they loved as an adult. Henry and I will be there, for the first hour or so anyway. Bedtime must be observed. Check it out, sign up and maybe I’ll see you there.
And with that, my summer reading is set. From Away, Americas, and whatever I pick up at the book swap will keep me reading local for the next few months. I’m interested to see how the themes of being “local” versus “from away” play out in these books.
Do you read local? Does a book’s setting or author’s origin influence your reading choices?