Connect with us

Lifestyle

Two new novels investigate what makes magic, what is real and imagined

Published

on

Two new novels investigate what makes magic, what is real and imagined
Covers of Pages of Mourning and The Cemetery of Untold Stories

In an enchanted world, where does mystery begin? Two authors pose this question in new novels out this spring.

In Pages of Mourning by the Mexican magical realism interrogator-author Diego Gerard Morrison, the protagonist is a Mexican writer named Aureliano Más II who is at war with his memory of familial sorrow and — you guessed it — magical realism. And the protagonist Alma Cruz in Julia Alvarez’s latest novel, The Cemetery of Untold Stories, is also a writer. Alma seeks to bury her unpublished stories in a graveyard of her own making, in order to find peace in their repose — and meaning from the vulnerability that comes from unheard stories.

Both of these novels, one from an emerging writer and one from a long celebrated author, walk an open road of remembering love, grief, and fate. Both find a destiny not in death, but in the reality of abandonment and in dreams that come from a hope for reunion. At this intersection of memory and meaning, their storytelling diverges.

Pages of Mourning

Pages of Mourning, out this month, is set in 2017, three years after 43 students disappear from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College after being abducted in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico. The main character, Aureliano, is attempting to write the Great Mexican Novel that reflects this crisis and his mother’s own unexplained disappearance when he was a boy. He’s also struggling with the idea of magical realism as literary genre — he holds resentment over being named after the protagonist in 100 Years of Solitude, which fits squarely within it. He sets out on a journey with his maternal aunt to find his father, ask questions about his mother, and deal with his drinking problem and various earthquakes.

Morrison’s voice reflects his work as a writer, editor and translator based in Mexico City, who seeks to interrogate “the concept of dissonance” through blended art forms such as poetry and fiction, translation and criticism. His story could be seen as an archetype, criticism, or a reflection through linguistic cadence on Pan American literature. His novel name drops and alludes to American, Mexican and Latin American writers including Walt Whitman, Juan Rulfo, Gabriel Garcia Márquez — and even himself. There’s an earnest use of adjectives to accompany the lived dissonance of his characters.

There’s nothing magical, in the genre sense, in Morrison’s story. There are no magical rivers, enchanted messages, babies born with tails. Morrison’s dissonance is real — people get disappeared, they suffer addictions, writer’s block, crazy parents, crazier shamans, blank pages, corruption, the loss of loved ones. In this depiction of real Pan-American life — because all of this we are also explicitly suffering up North — Morrison finds his magic. His Aureliano is our Aureliano. He’s someone we know. Probably someone we loved — someone trying so hard to live.

Advertisement

The Cemetery of Untold Stories

From the author of In the Time of the Butterflies and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, The Cemetery of Untold Stories is Julia Alvarez’s seventh novel. It’s a story that’s both languorous and urgent in conjuring a world from magical happenings. The source of these happenings, in a graveyard in the Dominican Republic, is the confrontation between memories and lived agendas. Alvarez is an acclaimed storyteller and teacher, a writer of poetry, non-fiction and children’s books, honored in 2013 with the National Medal of Arts. She continues her luminous virtuosity with the story of Alma Cruz.

Alma, the writer at the heart of The Cemetery of Untold Stories, has a goal – not to go crazy from the delayed promise of cartons of unpublished stories she has stored away. When she inherits land in her origin country — the Dominican Republic — she decides to retire there, and design a graveyard to bury her manuscript drafts, along with the characters whose fictional lives demand their own unrequited recompense. Her sisters think she’s nuts, and wasting their inheritance. Filomena, a local woman Alma hires to watch over the cemetery, finds solace in a steady paycheck and her unusual workplace.

Alma wants peace for herself and her characters. But they have their own agendas and, once buried, begin to make them known: They speak to each other and Filomena, rewriting and revising Alma’s creativity in order to reclaim themselves.

In this new story, Alvarez creates a world where everyone is on a quest to achieve a dream — retirement, literary fame, a steady job, peace of mind, authenticity. Things get complicated during the rewrites, when ambitions and memories bump into the reality of no money, getting arrested, no imagination, jealousy, and the grace of humble competence. Alma’s sisters, Filomena, the townspeople — all make a claim over Alma’s aspiration to find a final resting place for her memories. Alvarez sprinkles their journey with dialogue and phrases in Spanish and one — “no hay mal que por bien no venga” (there is goodness in every woe) — emerges as the oral talisman of her story. There is always something magical to discover in a story, and that is especially true in Alvarez’s landing place.

Marcela Davison Avilés is a writer and independent producer living in Northern California.

Advertisement
Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Lifestyle

'Wait Wait' for May 25, 2024: With Not My Job guest J. Kenji López-Alt

Published

on

'Wait Wait' for May 25, 2024: With Not My Job guest J. Kenji López-Alt

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt attends the 2023 James Beard Media Awards at Columbia College Chicago in Chicago.

Jeff Schear/Getty Images for The James Beard/Getty Images North America


hide caption

toggle caption

Advertisement

Jeff Schear/Getty Images for The James Beard/Getty Images North America

This week’s show was recorded at the Paramount Theater in Seattle with host Peter Sagal, judge and scorekeeper Bill Kurtis, Not My Job guest J. Kenji López-Alt and panelists Shantira Jackson, Luke Burbank and Jessi Klein. Click the audio link above to hear the whole show.

Who’s Bill This Time
Till Indictment Do We Part, An AI No No, Sleepy Chic

Panel Questions
Not Your Grandma’s Land of 10,000 Lakes

Advertisement

Bluff The Listener
Our panelists tell us three stories about stain-blocking ceiling paint in the news, only one of which is true.

Not My Job: We quiz Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt on Serious Feet
J. Kenji López-Alt is a food genius. The two-time James Beard Award winner and creator of “The Food Lab” is one of the world’s smartest people when it comes to cooking, but can he survive our game called “Serious Eats, Meet Serious Feets”?

Panel Questions
Caught Red (or Possibly Blue) Handed, The Dog Ate My….What?!?

Limericks
Bill Kurtis reads three news-related limericks: A Study Abroad Souvenir, A Pie Goodbye, Eau de Teen

Lightning Fill In The Blank
All the news we couldn’t fit anywhere else

Advertisement

Predictions
Our panelists predict, after Senator Bob Menendez and Justice Samuel Alito did it, who will blame their spouse next?

Continue Reading

Lifestyle

Jax Taylor Hanging Out at Bar with Mystery Woman Amid Brittany Cartwright Split

Published

on

Jax Taylor Hanging Out at Bar with Mystery Woman Amid Brittany Cartwright Split

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Continue Reading

Lifestyle

When Baby Sloth tumbles out of a tree, Mama Sloth comes for him — s l o w l y

Published

on

When Baby Sloth tumbles out of a tree, Mama Sloth comes for him — s l o w l y

Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books


hide caption

toggle caption

Advertisement

Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books


Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

Doreen and Brian Cronin aren’t related — as far as they know. They first stumbled across each other on Facebook: two Cronins, both working in the world of children’s books — Doreen as an author and Brian as an illustrator — and living in the same city? They should probably get a cup of coffee!

“We decided to meet up. We both live in Brooklyn and we met on a bench in Prospect Park just to chat,” explains Doreen Cronin, “and that was three years ago.”

They didn’t let the perfect meet-cute go to waste — they hit it off, both personally and professionally. Soon, they were dating and working together.

Advertisement

“We’re in it now!” Doreen laughs.

The Cronins admit they were at first a touch apprehensive about working together as a new couple. Brian had never collaborated with an author before. But they couldn’t really help it, says Doreen.

“It’s what we were both doing all day long,” she explains. “We’re always talking about books. We’re always talking about ideas.” Luckily, it’s worked out.

“I really love it,” says Brian. “I think it’s made us stronger.”

Their first picture book together was last year’s Lawrence and Sophia. They quickly followed up with Mama in the Moon, about a baby sloth who falls out of a tree at night and has to wait for his mom to s l o w l y come get him.

Advertisement

Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books


hide caption

toggle caption

Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

Advertisement


Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

They got the idea for Mama in the Moon over breakfast — Doreen says they create a lot over coffee and food — and that morning Brian had just read a news story.

“It was a news story about a sloth who had fallen out of a tree,” he says. “It felt real. It is real.” That’s because sloths do, in fact, fall out of trees about once a week for their whole lives. “It kind of wrote itself, really,” Brian says. By the time they left the diner, Doreen already had jotted down some notes and Brian already had some sketches for their second children’s book.

“Baby loved sleeping between his mama and the moon,” Doreen Cronin writes.

“One night, Baby tumbled from the tree. He landed in a soft patch of vines and leaves.

Advertisement

‘Mama, where are you?’ he called.”

Mama in the Moon

Mama in the Moon

Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books


hide caption

toggle caption

Advertisement

Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

Mama in the Moon

Mama in the Moon

Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

“We were, like, in tears when we finished it and kind of read it for the first time,” says Doreen.

“I was, actually,” adds Brian.

Advertisement

“We’re both parents, right, so we kind of know that — well, all parents know this — feeling of separation from your child,” explains Doreen. “When they’re waiting for you to come back or they need your comfort, and you can’t always get there.”

In the story, Mama Sloth comforts and reassures Baby Sloth. ‘I’m coming,’ she says. She distracts him, asking him to use all his senses to explore the dark world around him.

“‘Are you close now, Mama,’” the baby sloth calls up from the ground.

“‘I’m closer, Baby. I’m close enough to smell the flowers opening for the night. Can you smell them, too?’”

“Baby watched the bright petals of the flowers bend and fold. He could smell their sweet perfume,” Doreen Cronin writes.

Advertisement

Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books


hide caption

toggle caption

Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

Advertisement


Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

The tenderness of the mama sloth to her baby sloth really comes through in Brian’s art, says Doreen. “I’ve seen the art so many times. I can still feel her love and her comfort and her calm.”

Brian Cronin says his process for creating art is very simple — he doesn’t have one. “Every time I start something, it’s like a kind of a beginning.” For Mama in the Moon, he started with pencil sketches. Then he used poster paints and a marker for the trees to create a broken-line effect.

“I wanted it to feel like there was a human behind the thing,” he says.

One of the challenges in illustrating this story is that it takes place at night —how do you add light so it doesn’t feel too scary and dark? “The moon,” Brian says. The bright, fuzzy orb (fuzzy to mimic the fur on the sloths) is on most of the pages, or else lighting up the night sky. The baby sloth is a bright salmon pink amidst the dark foliage. And when Mama Sloth points out all the things Baby Sloth can smell (like the flowers opening for the night), and hear (like the worms wriggling in the fallen leaves), and feel (like the flutter of moths dancing in the air), they come to life against the charcoal pages in bright, almost neon, yellows, pinks, blues and greens.

Advertisement

Brian Cronin says he hopes the book helps kids fall asleep.

“The reason I wanted to do the dark pages was so that they’re in bed and the mommy and daddy, or whoever it is reading the book, they’re not disturbed by the text or the brightness of anything, and they can just kind of soak it up,” he explains. “It’s fairly relaxing, I think.”

Doreen Cronin agrees.

“I think it’s comfort, safety, and I think it puts us in kind of a quiet space,” she says, “and I hope it does, out in the world. Give us some quiet space. Give kids a quiet space.”

Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

Advertisement


hide caption

toggle caption

Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books


Illustrations © 2024 by Brian Cronin/Rocky Pond Books

Advertisement

Continue Reading

Trending