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Cooking with Magic Realism


In the New York Review of Books, I came across an ad for Aimee Bender’s new novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (also mentioned in an earlier post). It tells the story of a girl who, when she eats, tastes the emotions of the cook, as well as the food. Immediately, this made me think of Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children, where people ingest feelings with food whether they’re aware of it or not.


Rushdie’s book, which I finally read this year, is a commitment: it’s more than 500 pages and the point of view shifts a lot (sometimes within the same sentence), but the story is incredibly rich and worth the effort. The protagonist Saleem was born at the same time that India gained its independence, and both histories are fantastically – and complexly – intertwined.

As we travel back and forth between Saleem’s childhood and adulthood, and the events of his country, we are introduced to many characters. So many, in fact, that I found myself thinking of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and wishing for the family tree included in the front of that epic story of the Buendías. Both Garcia Marquez and Rushdie have well-nurtured imaginations, and their books are wonderful sensory experiences.

I love the way magic realism pushes boundaries and makes me look at the world differently. While Bender’s new book is not catalogued as magic realism in our system – it’s described as psychological fiction and bildungsromans (or, coming-of-age story) – I’m excited to try it out, especially to compare the emotions and cuisines of her book (sad lemon cake) set in the United States, with Rushdie’s (regretful pickles) set in India.

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