Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gabriel García Márquez, Franz Kafka and Magical Realism

Magical Realism in photography

This week we had some interesting weather.  Fall is definitely in the air and it has been a week of getting used to wearing a fall coat.   We had a few days of very heavy rain in Toronto  and one early evening of spectacular pink/grey clouds, which I have salted amongst the paragraphs below.     The days are noticeably shorter - getting up in the dark now and I don't like it one bit.  The sun starts to set just a scant hour after I get home after work which is equally disturbing.

Yes, I am working late and most days not getting out of the office until 6:30 or 7:00 after putting in 10 - 11 hours.  I am drained at the end of the day, but in a good way - I am enjoying my new job.   I also watched the moon this week, a waxing crescent well up on the horizon in the southern sky long before sunset. As darkness fell that night, the moon shimmered on Lake Ontario and I wished that someone special was there to share the wonderful view with me or at least that a photo could do justice.
Last year I read the first 300 pages of the 400 page novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez' - "One Hundred Years of Solitude". I had previously read his novel Love in the Time of Cholera (right to the end LOL) and enjoyed that novel immensely.  I recall writing a blog about it, but it seems I did not tag it so can't get my hands on the link.  I noticed the 2nd Marquez novel sitting on the bookcase this morning at my Collingwood Shangri-La and made a mental note to move it up a bit in my reading queue.

Before I continue on the subject of this blog, let me digress.

I used to read a lot of novels, B.C.   (Before Children).  I spent the first 28.5 years of my life (that is when my oldest son Jeff arrived on this planet), reading several books a week.  I would routinely get so engrossed in whatever novel I was reading that I could not put it down until it was finished.  I tended to pick up a book and read it to the end without interruption then wait a few days (whilst getting on with my life) until I picked up a new book and then the cycle would start again.  There were many nights I dragged myself into work with only a few hours sleep since I could not put down the current read.   I had to stop that once my babies started arriving.  I still do read voraciously during vacation and can consume a dozen books in a week's vacation, if on my own - but generally now find it difficult to find time to read even a chapter or two of a novel in any given week.

Mostly it is because I spend much more time reading bits and pieces online, blogging and the other dozen hobbies/habits developed in this last decade.  Of course in the 15 years following the birth of Jeff and my other 4 children I had no time at all to even think, let alone to devote to reading.   Now that I have no children at home I have instead a very mentally demanding job and I need to be at the top of my game during the 10 or so hours each day I work.  I find I need a solid 7 hours of sleep to function well and with a tired brain at the end of the day I am just not able to read in the evening.  So my "wanna read" list grows.   
In this last year or so  I seem to be collecting books to be read but not doing any reading to speak of.  I have counted now 7 "paper" novels or books of non fiction I have "in progress" and at least a dozen  I have on the "to be read" pile.  I did not bother going through my book list on my Kindle - I know there are probably a few dozen unread books loaded into the device and I have at least 5 on the go in that medium.   I have got to have to look at my routines and find some time to earmark for reading. 
Waxing Cresent Moon from my balcony at 7:30 PM
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

So back to the topic which was sparked by me picking up again (after a long pause) Gabo's One Hundred Years of Solitude.  FYI, Gabo is the name that Marquez is affectionately known as in Latin America.
This novel is a multi-generational account of the Buendía Family, whose patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, founds the town of Macondo which is a metaphor for Colombia in this novel.

Marquez, awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, is known  for his experimental approaches to reality in fiction and his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is just one example of his various different styles which tinker with conventional novel approaches.  In this novel he uses Magic Realism, described by Wiki as:
An aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements are blended into a realistic atmosphere in order to access a deeper understanding of reality.
It has been probably 8 months since I put this novel down having read 3/4 of it.  The novel is really engaging - busy - full of life - an epic novel, really sort of Latin version of  Forsythe Saga with some interesting bends in the fabric of reality to keep you on your toes.

The defining characteristic about this style is that fantastic and unbelievable things occur in an every day setting and are totally believed and in incorporated as normal within the context of the novel.  As an example,  the character Remedios the Beauty is hanging out her laundry to dry one day and the angels from heaven arrive and she suddenly  ascends to heaven.  The suggestionis that she is both too beautiful and too wise to continue to live on earth.   This is incorporated in the novel in the same way as if the story line was that she had gotten on a train and had left town on a long journey.   Every chapter contains several fantastic "magical" events recounted in the same manner.    There are many metaphors to ponder when reading this novel.  It is not a quick read.
The skyline was the result of a  master painter at work

This novel is a literary giant in the Latin world and is an exemplar of a  novel in the magical realism genre.  The most notable part is that it is just not any story with magical bits inserted - it is the dominent theme of the novel - - and the mythical setting and what it represents which makes this novel such a giant in Latin Literature.  From Wiki:

 One Hundred Years of Solitude illustrates that contemporary Latin America has resulted from the absence of purposeful political organisation and will required for progress. The tragedy of Latin America is the lack of a definitive national identity, without which there is only self-destruction, not preservation. This might be partly attributed to five centuries of Spanish colonialism; nevertheless, the continual violence, repression, and exploitation, rob the Colombian of a definite identity. The historical reality of Latin American countries occurs as the recurring fantastical world of Macondo. The desire for change and progress exists in Macondo as in the countries of Latin America, however, the story's temporal cycles symbolize the nationalist tendency for repeating history. 

... The desire for change and progress exists in Macondo as in the countries of Latin America, however, the story's temporal cycles symbolize the nationalist tendency for repeating history.

While I recall enjoying the novel, I guess I got busy and put it down and another one had captured my interest by the time I had was able to find some more reading time. 

The Works of Franz Kafka

Although the term Magical Realism was first identified as a genre associated with Latin American literature, it may not have originated there.  A German author,  Franz Kafka, writing in the 1920s, is arguably the founder.   According to Wiki:
Franz Kafka was one of the most influential novelists of the 20th century, whose works came to be regarded after his death as one of the major achievements of world literature. The term "Kafkaesque" has entered the English language. ... His body of work—the novels The Trial (1925), The Castle (1926) and Amerika (1927), short stories including The Metamorphosis (1915) and In the Penal Colony (1914)—is now considered among the most original in Western literature. Most of Kafka's output, much of it unfinished at the time of his death, was published posthumously.

 As you can see from the "Now also reading" panel on the right, I also have have a Franz Kafka work on the go.   My Kindle tells me I am 38% finished reading "The Works of Franz Kafka", which contains 3 of his best known stories plus a few others. I can't tell you how many pages this is - Books on the Kindle do not have pages, however for a comparison, Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" is ends at "location" 1570 while this ends at "location" 4960 - so I have read a good piece.   As I recall, I left off reading "The Trial", which seemed to be almost dream like in its mixture of reality and fantasy.  I believe that is the most definitive feature of Magical Realism - it reads like you are in a dream.   As evidenced by me putting down two of this style in the last year with major portions read but not finished, they are not pot boilers, but gentle simmers even when written by the best of authors.
Doesn't this look like a big set of lips?
I'd like to go back to the original definition of Magical Realism, which according to Wiki is "an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements are blended into a realistic atmosphere in order to access a deeper understanding of reality".   I am wondering what deeper understanding of reality is possible when a novel, otherwise constrained to reality as we know it, lets loose those boundaries and allows fanciful notions to become ordinary?  I think the answer to this might be found by considering the value of dreaming. Reading these novels is a bit like reading a dream.   Answers to deep questions can arrive in your sleep - when your mind is allowed to make otherwise illogical connections to events, thoughts and desires and perhaps these novels will let our minds do likewise when reading them. 

 In any event, to conclude, I will make a very obvious observation - I seriously need to find  some reading time and catch up on all the novels I would like to read!  I think my answer may be in spending less time writing these long thoughtful blogs!  :)


  1. Like you, my reading patterns have diminished over the years, Peggy, but, I guess, for different reasons. I went through an anti-intellectual phase for a while, during which I almost stopped reading altogether.

    Eventually, I resumed, but not nearly to the same extent as I once had read and I have confined my habit mostly to areas in which I sought specific knowledge as opposed to recreational reading. The last decade or so, for example, most of what I have read was written in the 19th Century or the first few years of the 20th Century.

    I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will never resume reading to anywhere near the extent that I once did -- my reading will "dwindle," not "kindle." I am more interested in talking with "actual" people rather than reading someone else's interpretations of them and their lives, whether in fiction or non-fiction.

    I still buy books out of habit, but I know most will never be opened and it does not bother me at all. Someone else can take my place in that regard.

    All that said, I will add that Franz Kalfa goes with me nearly every place I go. All I have to do is to look at a book of his stories and it lights up my imagination. He is more like a friend than an writer from another place and another time.

    By the way, neat photographs. You have a great view.

  2. I used to read voraciously as well. I guess I still do, but via a different medium. My reading takes me all over the world, along on adventures, into peoples' houses and into their inner most thoughts via the blogs that I read.

    I enjoyed the photographs in your blog. Those pink and gray clouds are so pretty. I was admiring the moon this evening. I think it is a waxing gibbous moon. It was hanging big and white over top a hill covered by trees with leaves beginning to change their colors. I wish I had my camera with me!


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