Anika Fajardo’s beautifully written memoir, “Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family,” is a questing journey begun by a young, single college student and completed by a woman with a teenage daughter and extended family on two continents. This is a full, satisfying read.
The narrative, strong enough to support the myriad stories that branch off on every page, is deceptively simple in the first pages: 21-year-old Fajardo is traveling to Colombia to meet the father she has not seen since she was a toddler. Any memory of her father is through the lens of what her mother recalls and has selected to share: that he was handsome, that he loved Colombia too much to leave it, and that that is why when they divorced Anika stayed with her mother in her homeland of Minnesota.
There is always more to family stories, and the structure of Fajardo’s storytelling uncovers and reveals aspects of what she heard growing up about her parents’ marriage, her birth and her father, who is tantalizingly removed in more than the physical sense. It is his absence, as well as Fajardo’s life in Minneapolis as a bicultural child, that creates a sense of magical realism — in the everyday tangibles of her life and in the ways in which she views the world.
The book begins on Fajardo’s plane trip to Colombia to meet her father, with whom she has begun a connection through a letter and then through e-mail. Her impressions of him, his wife and their home dance brightly yet deliberately on the page, as though young Anika is committing them to memory, uncertain that she will see them again. The narrative then wraps back to her parents’ marriage, her birth in Colombia and her upbringing in Minneapolis as a cared-for only child with a quiet life and few relatives.
The unseen but often imagined existence of Fajardo’s father, her mother’s recounting of her marriage and Fajardo’s birth, Colombia and her Latino-white biculturalism combine to create in the young woman a longing to know a part of herself that she feels is not so much missing as unseen. Her quest reflects Fajardo’s background and upbringing: the girl who loved the adventuresome, grounded coziness of reading “Anne of Green Gables” is, like Anne, looking at “the beyondness of things.”
Fajardo’s lovely, detailed description of the time she saw a fairy could be a metaphor for this memoir, which unfolds chronologically, big and small stories and details expanding and coloring the story. Along the way Fajardo’s existence becomes ever richer and fuller as her narrative and life grow, reality filled in magically with details and people.
Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth and author of memoir “Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year,” winner of a Minnesota Book Award.
Magical Realism for Non-Believers
By: Anika Fajardo.
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press, 194 pages, $22.95.
Events: Book launch, 7 p.m. April 18, Moon Palace Books, 3032 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls.; 7 p.m. April 27, ModernWell, 2909 S. Wayzata Blvd., Mpls.; 10 a.m. May 12, Wordplay festival, downtown Minneapolis; 7:30 p.m. May 14, University Club, St. Paul.