Magical realism books often blurs the lines between fantasy and reality to create a wondrous and profound reading experience. Here are the best books in this fascinating genre.
Mostly containing a real-world setting with real-life characters, as well as fantastical elements and indifference of the narrator — rendering the magical realist world completely rational — magical realism books are some of the most fascinating stories that have ever been put on a page.
Literary magical realism originated in Latin America, with writers Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, and Gabriel García Márquez being the pioneers of the form in the mid-twentieth century. We’ve collected a list of brilliant magical realism books with titles ranging from the genre’s inception in the ’70s, to now.
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez (1970)
One Hundred Years of Solitude explores the conflict between the desire for solitude and the human need for love by detailing the rich, intergenerational family saga of the Buendia family. Having influenced multiple generations of writers, García Márquez’s book was revolutionary for its time and transformed the boundaries of the literary genre — One Hundred Years of Solitude is universally recognized as the world’s first magical realist novel.
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie (1981)
Having won the 1981 Booker Prize, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is a critically acclaimed magical realist tale that chronicles the Partition of India, and the country’s freedom from British rule. Following the life of Saleem Sinai, a child born at the stroke of independence, Midnight’s Children has commonly been listed as one of the best English-language novels of all time.
Mrs. Caliban – Rachel Ingalls (1982)
Mrs. Caliban follows the life of a dissatisfied housewife who encounters a 6-foot-7 frog that’s escaped from the Oceanographic Research Centre. As she hides him away in her home, their bond continues to develop and grow into something she would have never imagined.
The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende (1982)
An iconic work of magical realism, The House of the Spirits is a complex, intergenerational epic that spans several decades, as it details four generations of the del Valle and Trueba families, with each of their respective subplots being guided by the nature of romantic love.
Beloved – Toni Morrison (1987)
Set in the aftermath of the American Civil War, Beloved follows the journey of a formerly enslaved family whose Cincinnati house is haunted by a malevolent spirit. Frequently ranked as one of the best books of the century, Toni Morrison’s heartwrenching classic is one not to miss.
Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel (1989)
Like Water for Chocolate is a Spanish novel that details the romance of the main couple, Tita and Pedro. However, trouble ensues for the two young lovers as they realise they have been forbidden from being together, due to Tita’s familial tradition to take care of her mother until she dies, instead of marrying.
The Famished Road – Ben Okri (1991)
An epic feat of imagination, The Famished Road has been cherished by critics and readers alike. Set in post-colonial Nigeria, the book’s use of African folklore and fantastical imagery details the chaos of a country emerging from the violence of colonial rule.
Tropic of Orange – Karen Tei Yamashita (1997)
Set between Los Angeles and Mexico, Tropic of Orange follows the seven diverse plot lines that are intricately interconnected, exploring the intersections of race, identity, place, and belonging.
Life of Pi – Yann Martel (2001)
Life of Pi is a novel that uses magical realism to interrogate ideas of truth and falsity, syncretism, and structures of belief. Following the life of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, the novel details the young Indian boy’s coexistence with Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger, with whom he is stuck at sea after a shipwreck.
Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami (2002)
Kafka on the Shore follows the story of Kafka Tamura, a boy who runs away from home to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy, and an older, war-veteran and simpleton called Nakata as they embark on an odyssey to unravel their intertwined destinies.
The Salt Roads – Nalo Hopkinson (2003)
The Salt Roads follows the stories of three women whose lives are intertwined after they are possessed by the consciousness of the Ginen fertility god, Lasirén.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman (2013)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane follows a middle-aged man who returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. As he returns, he encounters the girl from his past, Lettie, and the pair embark on a journey into their terrifying past.
One is often left wondering where these magical realism ideas come from and how writers are able to tap into the well of creativity so easily and so often. Regardless of their process and ease we’re certainly glad they did and continue to do so.