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“Hopscotch” is a jocosely jabbering jamboree

Malcolm Streitfeld

Anchor Staff Writer

Photo by Malcolm Streitfeld

Ever since I read “Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel in high school, magical realism has been my favorite literary genre. Stories such as Julio Cortazar’s “Axolotl” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” perfectly capture the magic and wonder of the human experience in a way that other books don’t. They inhabit this strange realm where a line between the mundane and the imaginary is blurred, resulting in surreal landscapes that often feel like wandering through a watercolor painting. Speaking of Cortazar, it was through one of his books, “Hopscotch,” that I was able to reignite my passion for magic realism after taking a long break from it.

This is the first time I’ve decided to review a book that I haven’t finished reading, though that’s only one way of looking at it. You’ll learn what I mean soon enough. “Hopscotch” is a playful word game that challenges the conformity of life and the drabness of the mundane. The plot is fairly simple, following Horacio Oliviera, and his lover, La Maga. The Parisian couple are members of the philosophical Serpent Club. The Serpent Club attendees frequently debate with one another on the nature of life, free will, existence and other such high-brow concepts. Oliviera’s life in Paris and his relationship with La Maga makes up the majority of the novel; well kind of.

Okay, I’ll finally reveal why I find “Hopscotch” so fascinating: Its formatting. “Hopscotch” can be read two different ways. The first is by reading the first 56 chapters in chronological order. The second is what I like to call the “hopscotch route.” If you choose the latter, you’ll be jumping constantly between chapters in a very specific order that can be found in the preface.

It took me a surprisingly long while to realize that Cortazar made it possible to read the book like it’s a game of hopscotch, as the reader repeatedly “hops” from one number to the next. I find the whole experience quite bizarre and hilarious.

I have only finished reading the book chronologically, I have yet to complete it by following the “hopscotch route.” But that’s okay, because you can still get plenty out of the book by only finishing it using one of the methods. I find Cortazar to be a very festive writer. He uses a childlike glee as he plays around with sentences and traditional story beats, constantly rearranging them into sporadic streams of consciousness sprees.

Reading “Hopscotch” all the way through in chronological order before starting on the hopscotch route has been quite thrilling, as it has led to the discovery of several new parts of the plot. Also, because I’m rereading chapters, it means I can refresh my memory, since some stuff that happened I completely forgot about.

I decided to take up Cortazar on his challenge, and just like him, treated the book like a game. Cortazar entices the inner child dwelling within every one of his fellow human beings. His offer is a very hard one to resist. Cortazar has perfectly captured the feeling of reading a book for the very first time.

Deep down we all want to fall in love with the pages in our hands all over again. There’s a reason why I think “Hopscotch” can’t be successfully adapted into a movie. It only works because it’s a physical novel. There’s something special about hardcovers and paperbacks that films, audiobooks and Kindles just can’t replicate. Go pick up “Hopscotch” if much like Cortazar, you’re tired of the same old rules.


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