Even though our students study language in daily bases following a curriculum map and pace, they have little or no exposure to Latin American literature. In fact, middle school students have a very limited knowledge about international literature. Throughout seven and eighth grade in language arts, students study important authors and artists such as Anne Frank or Vincent Van Gogh etc. They complete projects and art work that reflect and assess their learning. These types of assessments allow the teacher to evaluate their learning and also give students the opportunity to express themselves artistically showing what they have accomplished in reading and writing. However, when asked about great Hispanic authors beginning with Cervantes or contemporary writers such as Allende, or Garcia Marquez, our students are not familiar at all with their names and their work. Therefore, the introduction of this unit will give them the opportunity to further explore Latin American culture through writings and art. Since our students do not have a background in classical literature, introducing a new concept such as magical realism is not an easy task. My biggest challenge is to break down the term and have a visual representation of what the magical realism is. Students at this age learn visually and remember terms when associated with images.
Understanding magical realism as concept, one has to take in consideration that it is represented simultaneously in art and literature. The term "magical realism" was created by a German art critic named Franz Roh. What he called Magical Realism were paintings where real forms were combined in a certain way that does not conform to daily reality. "Magical Realism, unlike the fantastic or the surreal, presumes that the individual requires a bond with the tradition and the faith of the community that she/he is historically constructed or connected."(1) In literature, Magical Realism follows more or less the same pattern; in other words, coexistence between the reality and magical events. This style of writing is simple in its structures, yet able to astonish the reader and make him a part of the adventure.
Latin American authors embraced and carried on the tradition leaving a legacy of great woks such as One Hundred Years of Solitude and The House of the Spirits . This aggressive literary movement is widely known as the Latin American Boom. Though today magical realism, as a literary current, is flourishing, its roots go back to the beginning of the last century with authors such as Kafka with Metamorphosis. Nowadays, this literary current is embraced and has spread world wide. The Albanian writer Ismail Kadare (Nobel Prize nominee 1993) is one excellent example of Magical Realism in Eastern Europe. His short novel Chronicle of the Hankonats resembles One Hundred Years of Solitude in style and storytelling techniques, yet is very unique and entreating. One has to know the psychology of the period after Turkish occupation in an impoverished Albania to fully appreciate the peculiar characters struggling to endure and hold on to their assets.
Magical realism, according to Luis Leal, "is an attitude toward reality that can be expressed in popular or cultured form, in elaborate or rustic styles, in open or closed structures."(2) Authors such as Allende with The Stories of Eva Luna or the House of the Spirits, and ultimately One Hundred Years of Solitude of Garcia Marquez, praise these rustic environments with events and surprises where the abnormal translates into the ordinary. In magical realist literature the reality is twisted beyond imagination. The truth mingles with unforeseen yet comical, sequential events. The characters in a typical magical realist novel are quite mystical, yet live in an existent society and their peculiar, genuine conduct seems to be the standard in such circumstances. "Magical realism combines realism and the fantastic in such a way that magical elements grow organically out of the reality portrayed."(3) In the magical realist novel or short story, events and characters complement one another even though the setting is most of the time an enigma. Like Garcia Marquez, Allende travels throughout Latin America with her characters without revealing the identity of the towns, cities or villages: "…these fictions question received ideas about time space, and identity."(4)
In addition to the fact that magical realist style leaves the setting shadowy to emphasize more its surreal nature, authors use the presence of an inexplicable supernatural phenomenon. This supernatural phenomenon, which in some cases is the ability to tell the future or do something out of the ordinary, is presented sometimes as a gift of nature and is associated with the main characters in their daily lives. Faris in Magical Realism Theory, History, Community writes: "…irreducible element of magic something we can not explain according to the laws of the universe as we know them."(5) Often, this phenomenon is present since the beginning of a magical realist literary piece; they are outrageous in nature, but portrayed as believable. Right in the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude Garcia Marquez writes: "The world was so recent that many things lacked name, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point" Allende in The Stories of Eva Luna writes: "Nicolas Vidal had always known that a woman will cost him his life. That had been prophesied on the day he was born and confirmed by the proprietress of the general store on the occasion he had permitted her to read his fortune in the coffee dregs."(6)
Styles in magical realist work depend on the author. Each style is unique and strongly connected to the background of each author as well as the environment and society from which the author emerged as a product. Allende has been compared to Garcia Marquez in her style. Similarities exist in social themes and characters. However, these authors have different prospective on the subject they chose to write. "Some critics have argued that the magical realism of Garcia Marquez is fundamentally different from the narrative of other writers- a product that is not of organization as in case of Vargas Llosa, but rather pure invention."(7)
Allende, on the other hand brings a completely different point of view in her stories. With a vast range of characters Allende represents the female as the leading force in her narrative, placing her in a very adequate social position despite her struggle for integrity. Linda Gould Levine states "Her penchant for adventure and risk- taking, her feminine convictions, her belief in the power of the word, her spiritual view of death evoke familiar shades of her most endearing female characters."(8) Surprisingly enough in macho society, women as her leading characters are able to triumph, be honored, saved from the claws of death or even seduce the enemy with the aim to conquer. The Stories of Eva Luna overcome what seems to be a battle for honor, values, morals, ideas and freedom.
Allende's work is a reflection of a panoramic Latin American geography, culture, behavior and psychology. Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Allende had to flee the country and live in exile for many years in Venezuela where she struggled to survive emotionally without her ties to Chile and her family. In Venezuela, Allende was able to write her first novel The House of the Spirits. What is important in the early work of Allende is her involvement in the feminist movement in Latin America that will later be represented in her work.