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A magical realist biography,
This review is from: Lion Eyes (Hardcover)
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As you probably know, magical realism is a genre of Latin American fiction in which magical events occur in otherwise-realistic settings. This book is best described as a magical realist biography of Jan Milburn, in which we are asked to accept magical things happening as fact. These include wise men appearing inside prisons and hospitals; people turning into eagles, rats and butterflies; guns failing to fire; totem spirits forcing their way into dead people, bringing them back to life; cougars bringing a deer carcass to an injured, hungry man wintering in the mountains; and many other such things.
I won't comment on the veracity of any of this. If you read the book you are best off just going along with it.
The story is told by Jan and his third wife, Mireya, in alternating chapters. Their son Joaquin also tells part of the story, and Jan's son by a previous wife, Aaron, tells a little more. The author, Victor, frames the story at the start and end - with far too many words, too many of which are, "Jan's story is great, I have to tell it," and "Jan is great, I'm so glad I told his story." I'd probably cut all of Victor's story here. The author should show us, not tell us.
The story is Jan's biography. He begins as a minister to the homeless hippies of Haight-Ashbury, burns out and is sent to Mexico. His work with poor people gets him in trouble with the powerful, for reasons that don't quite make sense. He moves into the mountains above Copper Canyon and lives near the Tarahumara Indians. Again, he gets in trouble with powerful people. the Tarahumara have had their land stolen from them, so Jan and an ally find a way to get the ear of Mexico's President and his mother. Again, he gets in trouble with powerful people.
Jan is almost killed twice, maybe three times. His body is broken several times. He comes back. He heals. He gets in touch with a spiritual side that Christianity had not taught him, though he remains a Christian minister. Magic happens.
Our author does not think critically about these things, giving the story over to his protagonists. Mireya loves Jan as a man who will protect her and their family, even though he has abandoned two wives and four children. Jan is a humble man who is very proud that everyone loves him, and he enjoys the celebrity of a radio show. Though he lives in poverty at times, the finances behind other parts of his life are, well, open to skepticism. (The website for his foundation is a bit more open about his financial successes.) He is estranged from his mother and siblings for reasons that are not really clear but he is apparently blameless; a reconciliation succeeds but they remain estranged.
And yet for all that, it's an interesting story. Though about 20 percent of it is repetition that should be deleted, it's a good read. Though it's full of magic it seems real. Accept it for what it is.