Magical realism is a literary style that combines reality with surreal or supernatural elements, often to deal with painful subjects. It's most often associated with Gabriel García Márquez and Latin American novelists, but spread across the globe after the appearance of One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1967. Our list of novels recommended on Five Books in the magical realism tradition (top of the list) and with some magical realism elements (lower down the list) include:
“I defy anyone to read those opening pages…and not have it slightly get under their skin and haunt them…I believe that there’s been a lot of dispute about whether Mikhail Bulgakov was writing against Soviet atheism or in favour of it, against religion or in favour of it. Like all great art, it’s shot through with ambivalence. But I don’t think he could ever have written this other than through the collision of the creative impulse and the soulless worldview of Soviet communism. I just don’t think it would have been created other than through that rather disfiguring collision between creativity and conformity. And, for that reason alone, I just think it’s an astonishing book.” Read more...
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“Beloved was Morrison’s fifth novel. It’s a gripping story, inspired by a famous abolitionist case, the true story of a woman who runs away from slavery with her children, but when the slave catchers catch up with her, she kills one of her own and tries to kill the others, rather than returning them to slavery.” Read more...
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Farah Jasmine Griffin,
***Winner of the 1981 Booker Prize***
"This is about a boy born at the midnight hour of India's independence, endowed with magical powers to shape the history and destiny of India. Through Saleem Sinai, Rushdie shows a city reclaimed from the sea. Its maidans, its ancient temples and its 'rutputty' cafes are all imbued with the city's quirky, addictive and almost manic magic. Sinai grows with all that shaped the city, its communities, its tensions, its haphazard growth and its churning for identity. Rushdie created a new vocabulary, a new form to reflect Bombay. Forty years later, I was seeing so much of the same"
—Saumya Roy, author of Castaway Mountain, in her interview on the best books on Mumbai.
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“There’s…a new book from Salman Rushdie, Victory City, his fifteenth novel. It’s a fantastical epic, which opens in 14th-century India and features a nine-year-old orphan selected by the goddess Parvati to be her human vessel. The Times has described it as “a total pleasure to read, a bright burst of colour in a grey winter season,” full of “lush, romantic language.” (Rushdie, who is still recovering from a brutal knife attack last summer, is reported to be in daily contact with Hanif Kureishi, the acclaimed British writer who suffered a serious spinal injury in December and remains in hospital in Rome).” Read more...
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“I think it’s one of the most beautiful novels ever written. It’s a love story and also the story of Mexico, and a very specific moment in the life of the country. It is a metaphor of desolation and despair, where each element is imbued with a very subtle magic, made of voices and memories, above all women’s…It’s a work of magical realism, and was published four years ahead of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude“ Read more...
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“What García Márquez does is tell a story of the history and culture of Latin America from the point of view of the ordinary person. He manages to do that through this deadpan narrator who can mix the savagely real with the wonderful, and narrate a family saga which is also a history of Latin America. This book really put Latin American literature on the international map because it is a novel which, while deeply Latin American, is also accessible to all readers.” Read more...
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“He’s the best-known Japanese writer right now and this book I would consider to be his opus. It’s a big sprawling book that deals with weighty subjects like the Second World War and Japan’s part in that. There is a horrifying section set when the Japanese had occupied Manchuria and the Chinese are approaching and it’s told from the point of view of a soldier who is told to kill all the animals in the zoo as the Chinese close in. It’s a harrowing tale of this Japanese soldier going round the cages killing these magnificent animals.” Read more...
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Sung J. Woo,
One aspect of magic realism is that its inspiration is often traditional tales. In the case of Gabriel García Márquez, it was the stories he grew up with in Aracataca, Colombia. American author Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel, The Snow Child, set in 1920s Alaska, was inspired by a Russian fairy tale.
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by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft
***🏆 A Five Books Book of the Year ***
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“This book is attempting to embrace an entire world and culture, a particular period in Poland and Eastern Europe, and fold it into everything that can be known. It is a maximalist novel in that sense. There’s the theology of it, but also how market garden towns worked, how peasants lived, what beliefs people had and how those were challenged or changed.
Both The Books of Jacob and A New Name are dealing with the numinous, a sense of God. But Jacob Frank is an apostate, he’s someone who is prepared to overturn centuries of his own religion in an attempt to create something new. Thanks to Olga—through Jenny—we get to witness this vast pageant of what it means to have lived through that time in Poland. It’s like a very, very large Bayeux Tapestry. But also, what it is to look back on that, given what we know now, because there are outside observers.” Read more...
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“For me, this is the best of Gaiman’s books and I’ve got all of them. It’s set in the present time and talks about settlers who have settled a continent and have brought their gods with them. So, if you are Swedish and you cherish Nordic gods and move to the US, the gods go with you and the more you believe in them the stronger they are. But if fewer people start believing in them then they get weaker and eventually they become mortal and die. So, it’s about all these forgotten gods. It’s a horror story in which nobody dies. It’s a metaphor for our society – if you replace gods with values then you get the same thing.” Read more...
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“Gold Diggers is about three overachieving, South Asian Americans trying their best to get the checklist of success and achieve the American dream. In this book, which blends a little bit with magical realism, a mother of the young girl character realizes if you take specific metal, melt it, and drink it, it helps you succeed, get a higher test score, get into the good schools, and get some money. But there’s a cost. It’s a Faustian bargain. It’s a great story that speaks to the model minority myth. In the quest for success, what is the cost to our identity, our health, our relationships? Does the American dream bring happiness? This novel explores this in the realm of a magical realism.” Read more...
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