Monday, January 21, 2013

Magical Realism In/And Historical Fiction

This weekend I got to see one of my favorite authors, Luis Alberto Urrea, who's on tour promoting the paperback edition of his novel Queen of America, the sequel to The Hummingbird's Daughter. I've seen Urrea a few times before in Austin; he's an amazing speaker and consummate storyteller. Each time I hear him, he tells a story that sends chills down my spine and/or raises goosebumps on my arms.

Luis y yo at Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX

This time, speaking at the Brazos Bookstore in Houston, he said something about magical realism that I just have to share. First, a little background: The Hummingbird's Daughter and Queen of America are both about Urrea's tia, Teresita, the Saint of Cabora. For those unfamiliar with the novels or with la santa, Teresita was/is una curandera, a healer. In The Hummingbird's Daughter, Teresita apprentices as a midwife and learns to "fly" across space and time; she dies and is resurrected; and she heals all manner of debilitating illnesses with a simple touch. She also preaches a gospel of love that launches an indigenous revolution which feeds into the Mexican Revolution.

While Hummingbird's Daughter focuses on the life of young Teresita in Mexico, Queen of America is about her life in exile in the United States. Both are what you might call "historical fiction." As Urrea related on Saturday, this designation of historical fiction threatened the depiction of Teresita's milagros when, during the editorial process, many of those depictions were being cut on the basis that they were so much "magical realism."

Urrea's response was what really got me. He said that really things like what kind of clothes the characters wore or what a house or room looked like were the magical realism; those are the things he had to make up, to imaginatively invent.

The miracles and the healing--those, he said, are the real history. The miracles and "magic" stayed in. Way to go, homes!

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