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Chapter 6 - Beloved


I am not a pro at defining, explaining, or analyzing literature. Generally I just read what I read and like what I like. That being said I have realized that much of the African-American literature I've read is what smarter people than I term "magical realism".

Magical realism is fiction that shows a realistic picture of the modern world (or time in history) while adding magical elements. It is often identified as ordinary events with a touch of the extraordinary.

I thought about this for a while and after talking to my daughter, the 12th grade AP English teacher, I came to the conclusion that there might be reasons for this literary device in African-American literature. My daughter reminded me that African-American literature is often about the community and within communities there are share myths of the supernatural. Also, many of the stories paint bleak and terrible pictures which need magical realism to make the characters' lives bearable. In the face of tragedy you can give up or go to a place of strength.

So, no more academics, here are some of my favorite African-American novels with magical realism.

Beloved by Toni Morrison - I read this for our in-house book club and had to chew on it a bit to determine if I liked it. The story takes place after the Civil War and is about Sethe, a former slave, who escaped to Ohio but suffered terrible consequences because of it.

Kindred by Octavia Butler - In this book a young African-American woman writer, Dana finds herself going back and forth between her life in 1976 and a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation. Dana has to make hard choices to survive and return to her own time.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehesi Coates - The Water Dancer was published in 2019 and from the first time I read about it, I wanted to read it. It did not disappoint. The hero of the story is Hiram Walker, a young slave in the pre-Civil War South, who has photographic memory and can transport people long distances using a method called "conduction". The book also has a brief mention of Harriet Tubman.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead - This is another favorite of mine. Whitehead creates a compelling story of Cora and Caesar, two slaves from Georgia, who escape north via the underground railroad. In this story, however, the railroad actually exists along with safe houses and secret routes.

Ruby by Cynthia Bond - Ruby, having left the 1950's small town of Liberty to travel to New York City, finds she needs to return. In coming home she relives the violence of her youth on her journey to find love and acceptance.

What other magical realism African-American literature can you think of? Let me know.

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