OK, so way back in, like, 1990-something (after '95, before '99) I got into this Latin American author kick. I read Julia Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents), Jorge Amado (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands) and Laura Esquivel (Like Water For Chocolate). It's a long story about how this happened, but basically in 1995 I went to see this really wonderful Argentinian movie, "Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going". I remember that I loved that movie, but I can't really remember what it was about aside from reincarnation and love throughout lifetimes. (Though now that I've looked it up, I found out that it's about cinematography, using reincarnation as a metaphor. Who'd've thunk it? Turns out it was originally a book. I guess I'm doomed to go out and read it now.)
Anyways, I went to see the movie with a friend of mine who was into a Latin kick at the time, and she told me all about how South American movies and novels were full of this kind of stuff and it was called "magic realism". I was enchanted and I wanted more magic realism. This is what happens when a science-fiction-reading, hopeless romantic grows up: they end up becoming Magic Realism Junkies!
So I looked up the various different South American authors and gave them a whirl. The first was Julia Alvarez's book, which was nice, but lacking in magic realism. Then I went with Laura Esquivel (all the rage, because the movie came out around then). Let me tell you, Like Water for Chocolate was a really cool book! I didn't care about moral dilemmas: I loved food and I loved love and I loved magic and fantasy and the thought that cooking while in different emotional states could affect food gave me a desire to learn to cook and helped me connect to cooking in a way I hadn't before. I can't say enough good things about that book! (Though the whole girl-running-off-with-the-outlaws subtheme did lead me to Only Cowgirls Get the Blues, which was a tremendously bad idea).
Then it all went to pots when one of my friends gave me Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands for my birthday. I think it may have been a cheap translation, because while the story was interesting, there was something missing in the writing. It fell flat. I felt like I was reading a book narrated by a guy speaking staccato English with a thick accent! And it really saddened me because my Brazilian friends loved that book, so it must have been really great in Portuguese. (It also didn't help that I had two friends that reminded me of Flor and Vadinho, the ghost husband.)
After Dona Flor I laid off the South American authors for a while. But I regretted never reading any Allende. But the question was, what to read? Then one day I was at a dinner party and I ended up in the host's study for some unknown reason. On one of the shelves, looking over-read and loved was Eva Luna. I was overcome with a need to pick it up and start reading it. And I did. And then someone told me that we had to go downstairs for a toast and I left the book.
The next week, I went out and bought Eva Luna. Then I never read it. For some reason, it sat on my shelf for 6 years. Until two weeks ago when I picked it up and decided to read it. I haven't gotten far, but it's off the shelf and within reach.
I'll let you know how it is. Hopefully I'll start to love South America again.