Magical Realism has become an identity and metaphor for the land and spirit of Latin American people. The magic of magical realism has mesmerized readers all over the world and it’s appeal is rooted in reality and dares to explore magical elements present in that very reality, very elements that are often taken for granted and ignored. However, the roots of the term ‘Magical Realism’ lies elsewhere that too in the realm of art and not literature. How true, the magic of magical realism transcends even boundaries that define different forms of human expression.
The first coinage and usage of the term ‘Magical Realism’ dates back to 1925 when German art critic Franz Roh used it to describe a certain style of painting which is also known as Neue Sachlichkeit (the New Objectivity). Surprisingly for next couple of decades it was used to describe works of art that depict mundane reality without any extra fantasy or magical element. It only in 1960s the term became genre for literature which combine reality and fantasy. Now, even flight of fantasy in fiction has to be rooted in reality to be classified as magical realism. Books of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentas, Isabel Allende and many other great writers from Latin America now define the very genre which has become a sort of cult.
It is not really surprising that this genre of literature is truly rooted in Latin America. The land has seen many oppressive regimes, bloody revolutions, failure of revolutions, exploitation, poverty and suffering. It has been a raw nerve for long time and continues to suffer. Often the reality is so harsh that one has to go beyond and search for magical elements to persist, express and relate to it. The writings Marquez, Galeano, Neruda, Allende and others are more of witness accounts of what these countries and they themselves actually lived through. They also reveal the true rare magical elements of the land, people and circumstances that make it possible for them to survive the agony with belief, dreams and hope intact.
The magical world of Macondo created by Marquez in his masterpiece ‘The Hundred Years of Solitude’ has all the characters with true human aspirations, dreams and passion. It is their honesty to persist with their eccentricities and dreams which makes them humane as well as magical. Even his short stories, such as, ‘I Only Came to Use the phone’, Marquez makes surreal circumstance of a young woman getting entrapped in an asylum appear real. In fact he makes all mundane real aspects of life surreal and magical. We all enter and get entrapped in a complicated world by mere circumstances.
Eduardo Galeano is another master narrator who has managed to transcend all genres of writing (historic, fiction, magical realism, and existentialism) and mix-match all forms of expressions. But at the bottom of it all he remains a true magical realist because he persists to be voice of the countless voiceless who hold on to innocence, dreams and hopes. In his book, The Book of Embraces, Galeano’s small compositions with his neat drawings, celebrate and embrace subtleties and nuances of life.
There is one story about a woman who goes to town square to feed pigeons every day because she believes that her dead son has become a pigeon. When the guard asks her to take her pigeon turned son and leave, she tell him that even if she could identify her son she would never separate him from his friends. Similarly vast works of Isabella Allende and Pablo Neruda sift through history and politics while projecting rare human souls, their hard work, their triumph, their defeat and their passion.
Existentialism is being compulsively connected to reality while Magical realism goes a step further by exploring the magical elements of that very reality. Thus fears, loneliness, extreme emotions and darkness find a rare expression in the books of Marquez, Allende and others. They explore the same basic themes of pain, agony, angst but reveal an extra dimension of man’s realm of dreams, the resolute resilience and ability to relate emotionally in spite of all the darkness. Magical Realism is a rare elixir which gives solace to people who are trapped in ugly materialistic world. It overtakes the machine to drive people to the world of dreams.