This from Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot, as quoted in Stephen Hart’s “Cultural Hybridity, Magical Realism, and the Language of Magic in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist” (Romance Quarterly 51.4 [Fall 2004]: 304-312):
A quota system is to be introduced on fiction set in South America. The intention is to curb the spread of package-tour baroque and heavy irony. Ah, the propinquity of cheap life and expensive principles, of religion and banditry, or surprising honour and random cruelty. Ah, the daquiri bird which incubates its eggs on the wing: ah the fredonna tree whose roots grow at the tips of its branches, and whose fibres assist the hunchback to impregnate by telepathy the haughty wife of the hacienda owner; ah, the opera house now overgrown by jungle. (104)
Hart wants to revindicate both magical realism and (surprisingly) Paulo Coelho. However, one would have thought that tying Coelho to the magical real would sound that style’s death knell.
Still, it’s interesting to see a continuity between (what I think Niall rightly identifies as) the kitsch Orientalism of Allende’s Eva Luna with the still more portentious fable provided by The Alchemist.
Yet beyond the tired and derivative stylistic quirks that Barnes identifies in magical realism, perhaps at least Coelho has come up with a new way for Latin American literature to be bad.