I generally prefer to leave evaluations of literary reviews for analysis in the classroom, in articles, or related venues, but I’m making an exception today. Isabel Allende’s _La Isla bajo el mar_ was a good read and, though I haven’t read the English translation, I was irked by Gaiutra Bahadur’s review in today’s _Times Sunday Book Review_. When the central criticism is “Where is the magical realism?,” you have to wonder about the critic’s knowledge of the tradition Allende is working with and against. In the review, its absence equals an inauthentic foray into a sanctioned formula that can presumably capture a missing “reality,” or worst, regional “truths.” Yikes. It reminded me of Andrei Codrescu’s review, also in the _Times_, of Roberto Fernández’s bilingually exquisite novel _Raining Backwards_ years ago when I was in graduate school. Cordrescu missed Fernández’s parody of the notion of modernist innovation by noting how the novel could have been improved if “the echoes of García Márquez [i.e., “magical realism”] had been made conscious,” as if the novel’s bilingualism weren’t a foil for modernist claims to universalism. What would I tell Bahadur? Simple: I hope your reviewers are more attentive to your work than you’ve been today to Allende in the pages of the _Times_.
See “All Souls Rising,” by GAIUTRA BAHADUR in today’s Sunday Book Review or on her blog