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Magical Realism and the absolutely surreal

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

A zoom discussion with friends about the strange, fascinating and occasionally puzzling work of José Luis Borges led to an observation that ‘Magic Realism’ can frequently turn up in the actual events of daily life. How often do we find ourselves saying ‘…that was absolutely surreal’ when one of these oddities occurs. I found myself murmuring it yesterday when walking through the village, I noticed that someone has a significant grove of wild cactus growing on his or her Roman tiled roof. I’ve a feeling it simply hasn’t been noticed.

I have just read some pages of Albert Manguel’s wonderful book about libraries: ‘The Library at Night’, and I came across the following story:

‘Solid Libraries of wood and paper, or libraries of ghostly, flickering screens, stand as proof of our resilient belief in a time-less, far-reaching order that we dimly intuit or perceive. During the Czech insurrection against the Nazis in 1945, when Russian troops were entering Prague, the librarian Elena Sikorskaja, Vladimir Nabokov’s sister, realised that the German officers now attempting to retreat had not returned several of the books they had borrowed from the library she worked in. She and a colleague decided to reclaim the truant volumes, and set out on a rescue mission through the streets down which the Russian trucks were victoriously bundling. “We reached the house of a German pilot who returned the books quite calmly,” she wrote to her brother a few months later. “But by now they would let no-one cross the main road, and everywhere there were Germans with machine guns,” she complained. In the midst of the confusion and chaos, it seemed important to her that the library’s pathetic attempt at order should, as far as possible, be preserved.

Well they had their priorities - quite right too.

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