It was an art critic who coined the term “magic realism,” to describe a new wave of painting in 1920s Germany. The work departed from the moody Expressionism of the day, emphasizing material reality even as it unlocked an elusive otherworldliness in the arrangement of everyday objects. Sometimes, though, the fantastic rubbed elbows with the real: in one painting, a fat general nonchalantly shares a table with headless men in tuxedos.
In literature as in art, the genre has been dominated by men. So critics devised the label “magical feminism” just for Isabel Allende’s multigenerational family chronicles featuring strong-willed women, usually entangled in steamy love affairs against a backdrop of war and political upheaval. These elements are all present in her new novel, “Island Beneath the Sea,” but its approach is traditional. Where, you wonder, are the headless men — or, in Allende’s case, headless women? Where is the magical realism?
Continue reading in the Sunday New York Times Book Review.
Read an excerpt from the book here.