The title character is a loud brassy woman who likes older men (“I like a old man,” she says) and has taken up residence with Errol on Westerbury Road, a widower in his seventies. The neighbors, of which the narrator is one, occasionally grow weary of the noise and of being accosted by Magda. Her voice is, to say the least, piercing: “It has the penetrative force of a piece of heavy industrial equipment, something with a diamond bit or tempered-steel blades. Often it seems disconnected from her body, as if it were emerging from the bathroom or from under the floorboards or the far end of Westerbury Road.” The neighbor goes on to speculate as to the source of the voice. Ultimately, the disturbance is too much and the police arrive, but the narrator makes it clear that the neighborhood wants to admire Magda, they just don’t know how. A Kunzru story is a nice change of pace for The New Yorker. Always playful, Kunzru here doesn’t really surprise much. Beneath the surface of a finely told tale is a simple story of a woman who doesn’t fit and a neighborhood that is trying to understand why. One of the best of the year, in my opinion.
August 13, 2007: “Magda Mandela” by Hari Kunzru