One after one, exotic characters, each with a miraculous tale to tell, come to visit comatose Rosa and her troubled family in Karen Wyld’s When Rosa Came Home (Amazon, 238 pages). Many of these visitors are circus performers or former circus performers. Some are human, some not. The Ambrosia family home is a remote vineyard and becomes yet another magical character — reacting to and affecting the actions set there. It’s trees and gardens fall into shadows when trouble prevails, and burst with light and life when joy arrives.
In the framework tale, the narrator, Angelita, is a little girl when the events in these stories occur, but grows up and her knowledge and perspective designate her to be the storyteller.
Rosa’s story is best told through the eyes of the little girl who witnessed Rosa’s enigmatic return to the family.
Sit down and get comfortable, for I will take you back to when I was that little girl; back to that moment when Rosa came home. Through this literary device, Wyld gives the narrator a child’s perspective and voice. The narrator sees the world through a child’s eyes; she notices the immediate, the sensuous, the surprising.
Breathing in, I was greeted by a heady mix of lavender, sandalwood , rose attar, buttery-popcorn and sawdust and, despite the ocean being many miles away, salted-air. This exotic blend made my tongue tingle for fairy-floss. That pink cloud of sweetness that Poppa would buy for me whenever the circus was in town.
This positioning of the narrator creates an interesting dramatic tension. When events unfold outside the parameters of normal day-to-day reality, she interprets them as a child would. In the girl-narrator’s mind, everything is possible, everything is magical. This creates an ideal narrative structure for magical realism, the genre of this novel. The day-to-day becomes magical, and the magical is passed along without surprise. Everything is possible.
The framing story in When Rosa Came Home is similar in some ways to One Thousand and One Nights, except the storytellers (all friends and acquaintances of Rosa) come into the frame and the constant character, Angelita, the Scheherazade, is listening to it all in rapt attention.
What sort of stories come in with this entourage? Two of Rosa’s friends, for example, sisters Annette and Nanette, tell of a camping trip they once made together into the desert, to find optimal conditions to view a comet visible in the night sky. A chance encounter with an enigmatic old man changes their destination to a place more remote and, well, more magical. There they find not only the perfect dark sky for viewing the heavens, but surprising creatures in both a spring-fed oasis they come across, in the dark sky, and perhaps in themselves as well.
What we saw that morning , as the dawn broke on a new day, was a bird of light. Not just any small bird, it was some type of raptor. It had the appearance of a miniature eagle, an intriguing bird of prey with feathers of pure silver light. We could not know for sure what type of bird it was, for as quick as it had appeared, it had as swiftly moved on, out of sight.
The effect of this storytelling is to return the reader to childlike receptivity where the world is an enchanting (and enchanted) place and people are their stories, nothing more, nothing less. It’s a form of escapism, I suppose, perhaps literary escapism along the lines of One Thousand and One Nights – considerably more edifying that standard fare romance, adventure, mystery, whatever is your standard escape.
When Rosa Came Home has a surprise woven into the narrative I won’t reveal here except to note when it came to light my reaction was, “Well, of course. Why didn’t I see that coming?” Perhaps the joy of surprise is part of the receptivity of a child and the delight a child experiences in a world that is ever new. When Rosa Came Home draws from several traditions to build a narrative that carries the reader, of whatever age, back to when the world was a magical place and everything was possible.
–Dennis Vickers, author of Mikiwadizi Storms, 2014