Magical realism confuses a lot of people when they read it. Fantasy and reality are mixed up when people talk about it. Many people think of it as speculative fiction, urban fantasy, and more. It can be a little unnerving, and some people find it very upsetting.
The magical realist genre was born in Latin America, but the magical realist mode spreads a lot farther around the world, too. The magical realist mode is made up of the moment when the reader (and sometimes the character) isn’t sure if what they are reading is real. The best way to understand magical realism is, of course, to start reading about it right away. To get you started, here are ten of the best magical realist books:
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Márquez’s book is probably the best book in the magical realist genre. It’s a long story that tells the story of how the town of Macondo rose and fell through the history of the Buenda family. There are twists and turns in this tragicomic story of life and death, riches and poverty, triumph and tragedy, that are filled with magic.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but 18 years later, she is still not free. Too many times, she thinks about Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many bad things happened. Whenever she moves into her new house, the ghost of her dead baby comes with her. The baby was never named, and his tombstone reads “Beloved.”
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
During Stalin’s rule, Bulgakov wrote a scathing satire of Soviet life. The book was finished in 1940, but it wasn’t published until 1966. One of the best dark comedies I’ve ever seen is about Woland (Satan) and his band of mercenaries taking Moscow by storm. The story includes a gun-toting black cat named Behemoth, who also drinks vodka.
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
Borges is one of the founders of speculative fiction, and his stories will make your head spin. A lot of what Borges talks about in this book is about infinite libraries, the man who wrote Don Quixote anew, and things made out of dreams.
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Allende draws a lot from Márquez to tell the story of three generations of the Trueba family, starting with patriarch Esteban and ethereal Clara and ending with Blanca’s forbidden love and Clara’s granddaughter Alba, a beautiful and ambitious girl who will lead her family into a new, revolutionary future. Alba is a beautiful and ambitious girl who will lead her family into the future.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Ita is the youngest daughter of the all-female De La Garza family in turn-of-the-century Mexico, and she lives with them now. She can’t get married because of tradition. She has to look after her mother until she dies. That’s not all. With the magic she puts into her food, Pedro falls in love with her. He then marries her sister in a desperate act of love.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight at the exact moment when India became independent. He is one of 1,001 children born at the same time who each have a special gift. Saleem can communicate with these kids through their minds, but his gift comes with a price. His life will always be linked to his motherland.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
As soon as Janie, now 16, is caught kissing shifty Johnny Taylor, her grandmother quickly gets married to an old man with 60 acres. Janie has two stifling relationships before meeting the man of her dreams, who gives her a packet of flower seeds.
The Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Morrison has two books on this list, but do they need to be there? They are. The story of Milkman Dead, who was born soon after a local eccentric tried to flee by throwing himself off a rooftop, is told by Morrison in this book. For the rest of his life, Milkman, too, will be obsessed with the need to fly, and he won’t stop.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
To start, a young man named Toru Okada is looking for his wife’s cat in a Tokyo suburb. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was originally published in three parts. Soon, he and his wife are looking for each other in a dark place that lies beneath the surface of Tokyo. They meet a strange group of allies and foes.
Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter (1984)
Sophie Fevvers is one of the best acrobats in the world, the star of her circus, and the best in Europe. She is also part woman and part swan. This is also true. As a baby, she was left at a brothel and worked as a living statue street artist. She was born with little nubs of wings on her shoulder blades. Puberty finally comes around, and Sophie’s little nubs turn into beautiful full feathered wings. Her circus career began.
It doesn’t look like journalist Jack Walser is going to believe Sophie’s story for the time being. he wants to find out what he thinks is the real truth about how she’s different from other people. In order to show her, he follows her circus on a tour of Europe that goes from London to St. Petersburg and all the way to Siberia, so that people can see her. Jack is enthralled and desperate for a scoop, so he takes us, the reader, on a wild ride across the country. This well-known book was a big hit when it came out in 1984, and it went on to win the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (2002)
Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore is about two very different people whose lives seem to be linked together in a mysterious way. Kafka is a teenager who has run away from home after living as a shadow in his father’s house for years. He is now living on his own. A good turn of events leads him to a library, and there, he meets an assistant named Oshima. He doesn’t have a friend in the world until a good turn of events leads him there.
Nakata, an old man with learning disabilities, is happy living in a suburb of Tokyo. He spends most of his time talking to the cats in the area, and he sometimes helps them get back together with their owners for a small fee. It turns out that one day, when he goes to save a feline friend, he ends up at a grisly murder scene. As the story progresses, Kafka and Nataka become mysteriously attracted to each other as they travel through their own worlds, which are meant to be linked together in the end.