Mapping geographies in transition: Magical realism in the fiction of Salman Rushdie, Latife Tekin, and Ben Okri
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This dissertation examines three magical realist novels published by writers from different parts of the world —India, Turkey, and Nigeria— in 1980s and early 1990s. In contemporary criticism, magical realism has usually been considered as a specifically Latin American or postcolonial literary mode. I argue that magical realism emerges in the unevenly developed and developing parts of the world typically defined by a transition from storytelling to the novel, from orality to literacy, and from pre-capitalist modes of production to increasingly modern and capitalist environments. In postcolonial countries like India and Nigeria, this transformation is most visible in the transition from colonial rule to emerging independent nations. However, this experience is not separate and dissimilar from the modernization processes that accompany an encroaching capitalism in other developing countries such as Turkey. This is why I argue that the context of uneven development provides an opportunity to better frame the discussions of location in discussions of magical realism. The first chapter focuses on Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, a celebrated example of magical realism in postcolonial fiction. I argue that Rushdie, as a cosmopolitan writer, does not consider magical realism as a mimetic representation of Indian society but rather uses it as a literary device to show the transition period from colonialism to independence. That is why the use of supernatural phenomena is inextricably connected to the idea of India as a nation in the novel. I go on to argue that in his attempt to secularize the supernatural, Rushdie's use of such non-cultural and non-religious supernatural elements as well as the inherent skepticism towards these events indicates both Rushdie's and the narrator Saleem's bourgeois identity. In the second chapter, I examine Turkish writer Latife Tekin's first novel Dear Shameless Death which is considered to be the first example of magical realism in contemporary Turkish fiction. The clear division between the novel's two parts, with the first part focusing on village life in central Anatolia and the second part on the urban center of Istanbul reveals the extent of uneven development the country is going through. In transitioning from traditional forms of society to modernity, the novel represents the protagonist Dirmit and her family's challenges in the urban center. The supernatural phenomena of the novel also reflect this division between the countryside and the city as the djinns present in the village disappear from the narrative once the family moves to the city. The last chapter focuses on Ben Okri's novel The Famished Road, the supernatural content of which spreads through the narrative and also affects the formal structure of the novel. The fact that narrator of the novel, Azaro is an abiku (spirit child) provides the basis for all of the supernatural phenomena in the novel. Furthermore, the Yoruba myth of abiku lends its cyclicality to the narrative structure. Many transitions taking place as Nigeria gets closer to independence are depicted through the eyes of Azaro who travels many roads around his ghetto, registering all the developments that transform his environment irretrievably. I suggest that Okri's use of a culturally specific supernatural phenomenon at the center of his narrative provides him with the ability to depict a single inherently supernatural reality.