In order to have a clear idea of magical realism, one needs to understand its origin or should know how and when it started. otherwise you won’t be able to grasp the concept of this genre. In the present age, its definition is an amalgamation of everything except for what it actually is. So, let me tell you the history and primary characteristics of its pioneers.
Magical realism was a literary movement started around the 1940s by Latin American authors. Originally, it was a presentation of reality or facts with touches of fantasy and magic. Often regarded as a combination of myth and reality. Magical realism distinguishes from fantasy in its description and presentation of real life. Isabella Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marcuqez, and Jorge Louis Borge are the pioneers of the movement. Though it originally started in Latin America, its influence is not limited to Latin American Literature. The influence can be seen and felt throughout world literature. Some of the present contemporary magical realism writers include Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Ben Okri.
There are similarities between surrealism and magical realism. At times, you will find both in the same novel but always remember that magical realism has fantasy elements but it is always grounded in reality. Its focus invariably stays on what actually happens, that’s why it also serves best for writing postcolonial literature.
1.The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Bringing the past, present and future of a character in a novel is not an easy job. The House of the Spirits was Isabella Allende’s first entry to the genre. She has added all the complexities or intricacies in the novel with such an expert mind and hand that you will be astonished. The plot is constructed around the story of the Treuba family’s three generations . The story touches upon the theme of forbidden love in a patriarchal family. An intriguing story with amazing details, this novel will quench your thirst for magic realism.
2.Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
The author of the famous work, Midnight’s Children, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is Salman Rushdie, another masterpiece. Packed with all fantastical elements, it presents an amazing fantasy world. The plot is constructed around a boy, Haroun, struggling hard to preserve his fathers’ heritage of storytelling. Set in the land of magicians and fantastical animals, the book encompasses all necessary elements of magical realism. Works of magical realist authors like Salman Rushdie are something we must have in our to-read list.
3.The Man Who Walked through Walls by Marcel Aymé
An absolute fun and thought provoking read. The Man Who Walked through Walls is a collection of short stories written by Marcel Ayme. Set in nazis time, the story tells stories of both who colonized and the colonizer in a humorous way. Elements of magic realism and fantasy are presented in a very balanced pattern, not too unbelievable. Similarly, all tales are full of suspense and would keep you turning the pages. It’s my favorite from the genre and I think it’s one of those books that you like to read again and again.
4.Explosion in a Cathedral by Alejo Carpentier
Explosion in a Cathedral is a tour de force. Both the theme and setting are perfectly combined by Alejo Carpentier. The story is set in the Caribbean at the time of the French revolution. The story covers the time span of the last decade of the 18th century and first decade of the 19th century. The story revolves around a historical figure, Victor Hughes. Alejo Carpentier narrates the history of the French Revolution with an amazing storyline. Explosion in a Cathedral could be an interesting way to read about the French revolution.
5.Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is considered to be one of the famous magical realists authors. The author of the well known novel, Hundred Years in Solitude. In fact, his Love in the Time of Cholera is considered to be the best example of magical realism. The story of this highly acclaimed novel revolves around the passionate love of two characters i,e Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. However, due to some unusual circumstances they couldn’t make it. As the story progresses, fate gives them another opportunity for union but will they avail the opportunity and how will they. If you liked his previous novel, Hundred Years in Solitude then you will definitely like this one.
6.The Shell Collector: Stories by Anthony Doerr
The Shell Collector consists of stories that try to connect both man and nature. Anthony Doerr with amazing skills has written each and every story in a unique style. All the stories pertain to the theme of reconciliation between nature and man. Different characters in different stories are set into different characters, but few of them are mainly set into Africa. These stories have a very soothing and calming effect. It is worth your time.
7.Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García
Cristina Garcia in Dreaming in Cuban details the effect of the Cuban revolution on three generations of a family. Through the story of husband and wife, the writer glances at the poor, destroyed state of Cuba at the time of revolution. The elements of magical realism are not too exaggerated. However, in the beginning you may find it hard to grasp the story but after a few pages you will get fully absorbed in it. The story mingling both fantasy and reality provides a unique perspective of the Cuban revolution.
8.Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Exit West is a story of passionate lovers trapped in civil war. Exit West narrates the story of Nadia and Saeed who are trying to escape the unfortunate circumstances. Through their story, Mohsin Hamid has tried to mirror the suffering of refugees. Beside the story, the writing style of Mohsin Hamid is beyond amazing. Keeping in mind the limits of magical realism, he has portrayed everything in amazingly realistic style. Every reader should read it, it really transforms you to another world.
9.So Far from God by Ana Castillo
Ana Castillo’s So Far from God narrates the story of a woman and her three daughters settling in new mexico. The story is based on the theme of hardships women face in their life. It can be both physical and spiritual. The thing I like about this novel is its time and manner of storytelling.
It’s light and humorous, it keeps on fascinating you, but never tortures you by exaggerating the situations. I think it could be the best start for beginners to get introduced to this new genre of magical realism.
10.The Road to Tamazunchale by Ron Arias
Ron Arias in his fantastic novel, The Road to Tamazunchale tells a story of an old man who is about to die but doesn’t want to. The story moves back and forth between past and present. The story and portrayal of both the real and dreamy world become complex at some instances. However, this is modern storytelling, you never know what is real and what is not. It is a novella, and I am sure you will love it.