Magical Realism and Cosmopolitanism: Strategizing Belonging, a new book by Assistant Professor of English Dr. Kimberly Sasser, is a fresh look at magical realism and contemporary questions of identity and belonging. Magical Realism and Cosmopolitanism traces questions of belonging through the novels of Ben Okri, Salman Rushdie, Cristina Garcia, and Helen Oyeyemi, in whose works magical elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic environment. Through these texts, Sasser examines the individual’s struggle to belong in a community or society that may encompass many different origins and traditions.
Magical realism, which simultaneously participates in and breaks the rules of conventional literary realism, allows magic to paradoxically “belong” with the real. Sasser’s skilled reading of Okri, Rushdie, Garcia, and Oyeyemi reveals how they use narrative magic and realism to show how characters achieve (or do not achieve) a sense of belonging. For example, in Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence, the enchantress Qara Koz uses her supernatural powers to escape the restriction of geographical identity and choose her own attachments in a precarious cosmopolitan exile. In Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban, magic emphasizes the bonds of family rather than transcends them, as seen in the telepathic communication between a granddaughter and a grandmother.
As the title of her book suggests, Sasser brings magical realism into dialogue with cosmopolitanism, the ethical ideal that human beings should not limit their concern to those who share their own ethnic or national identity. Sasser, who describes her own first encounter with magical realism as “a kind of love at first sight experience,” intends that her non-expert readers will find a sufficient introduction to magical realism and cosmopolitanism, while specialists will discover new ideas with which to engage.
Sasser’s emphasis on cosmopolitanism, the historically rich notion of world citizenship, has special relevance for twenty-first-century Christian readers.
“The Bible furnishes Christians with a powerful rationale for valuing all human beings: the Imago Dei. God asks us to love the alien and the foreigner and to treat any person in need as our neighbor,” Sasser explains. “There’s a problem, though: our human propensity to be self-absorbed and to gravitate towards our own kind.”
Sasser explores cosmopolitanism and the possibility of true belonging, magnified through the lens of magical realism.
“God doesn’t leave us with this seemingly impossible task,” she says. “He offers us the power of the Holy Spirit who, as he regenerates, enables us to love others.”
In addition to Magical Realism and Cosmopolitanism, this year Dr. Sasser has published a chapter entitled “Proliferation: The Case for Magical Realisms from Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl” in Critical Insights: Magical Realism. She has also recently co-authored a chapter in Latin America and the World, forthcoming in 2015.