Reservation Blues (1995) by Sherman Alexie is an important novel. The central characters include Victor Joseph, Junior Polatkin, and Thomas Builds-The-Fire (32 years old), who appear in Alexie’s earlier book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Robert Johnson also appears on the Spokane Reservation (created in 1881) in eastern Washington and gives his guitar to Thomas. Wellpinit is the only town on the reservation. The novel follows the adventures of the trio and their band. The other characters include Big Mama, Chess and Checkers (two sisters) and Father Arnold.
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich is a novel that narrates the tensions between three generations and two families of NChippewa (aka Ojibwa or Anishinaabe) living on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota. the novel spans over six decades.
Themes: race (Native American vs Whites), family (3 generations), love, abuse (alcohol and drugs), and love (heterosexual, parents and children, and adoptive families), Native American government policy, and loss of cultural identity and spirituality.
Narrative: third person narrator and first person narrators- Marie Lazarre (Kashpaw), Nector Kashpaw, Lulu Nanapush, Lyman Lamartine, Albertine Johnson, and Lipsha Morrissey.
Like Water for Chocolate (1989) by Laura Esquivel is another example of magic realism by a female author. It narrates the experiences of Tita, the youngest daughter of Mama Elena, who falls in love with Pedro but marries him after twenty years, after Rosaura, her sister and his legal wife, dies. The book is divided into twelve chapters, each corresponding to a month of the year and a recipe that was cooked during that month.
Themes: magic realism, love, food and cooking, family (including the relationship between Gertrudis and Tita and Elena’s cruelty), history (Mexican Revolution), and the power of traditions.
Women in the family: Mama Elena; her daughters, Gertrudis, Rosaura, and Tita (real name, Josefita); Nacha, the cook; and Chencha, the maid.
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolpho A. Anya is an example of a magical realism novel. It can be read as a bildungsroman as it chronicles the growth of Antonio, a young boy whose life takes a turn when a Ultima, a medicine woman, comes to live with his family.
Themes: women, community, the power of dreams, family and ancestors, man vs nature, and religion (organized vs pagan).
Ultima is a curandera, “a woman who knew the herbs and remedies of the ancients, a miracle-worker who could heal the sick” who “could lift the curses laid by brujas” and “exorcise the evil the witches planted in people to make them sick. And because a curandera had this power she was misunderstood and often suspected of practicing witchcraft herself” (4).
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende is one of the few magic realism novels by a female author. It was Allende’s debut novel, published in 1982. It narrates the lives of four generations of the Trueba family. Clara is the most ‘magical’ character. There are also elements of Marxism both as a form of government as well as in the relations between Esteban Trueba and his tenants. There are also grand descriptions of the decorations in the “the big house on the corner;” the house reflects the relationships as well as upheavals in the family’s social and economic positions. This novel reminded me of Julia Alvarez‘s In the Time of the Butterflies in Alba’s imprisonments and Maryse Conde‘s Windward Heights (which itself is a retelling of Wuthering Heights) in term sof the descriptions and a multi-generational narrative.
So Far From God by Ana Castillo is set in Tome, New Mexico and narrates the story of Sofi, her (on and off) husband, Domingo, and their three daughters, Esperanza, Fe, Caridad, and the youngest, La Loca (who is an epileptic).
Themes: Family, female solidarity, Catholicism, magic realism (visions of hell and character of La Loca), violence against women, business, technology, and identity. An interesting thing is how Castillo uses really long chapter titles; like for Chapter 1, she writes, “An Account of the First Astonishing Occurrence in the Lives of a Woman Named Sofia and Her Four Fated Daughters; and the Equally Astonishing Return of Her Wayward Husband” (19).