Magical Realism as a Genre; What is it and What to Read?

Magical Realism is a fiction genre that goes against the accepted principles of our reality. Things that are commonly accepted as hard facts, like gravity and the flow of time, are contradicted in typical everyday situations. However, do not mistake mystical realism for fantasy or science fiction. In this genre the strange moments are accepted at normal in the world the author has created. Things we might think amazing like a robot strolling down the street or a hail of shoes from the sky are surprisingly credible in the context of the story being told.
Magical realism typically starts off with setting up the reality of the world. Then the story can take on a dream like feel or work with in alternate realities. The story often gives pictures or situations that are simply beautiful (or horrifying) but ultimately not possible in the logic of our reality. Magical realism blends extra ordinary events with everyday lives and people. To get a more vivid understanding of the genre consider tales like Pinocchio where the feat of a puppet becoming a real boy does not seem so impossible. So what should adults interested in exploring this genre start?

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel is a perfect example of the genre. The readers are drawn into the everyday lives of a family in turn of the century Mexico. The family relationships and cooking are the grounding forces to keep the story in reality. However, there is magic at work when Tita's food allows those that eat it to feel her emotions and act with her passions. The combination of Tita's desire not to be her mother's server and unmarried for the rest of her life is expected and real to readers, while the magic in her cooking seems mystical it is handled it a way that makes it part of her life rather than an intrusion of fantasy. Beyond being an example of magical realism this is also a fantastic work of fiction and contains recipes to enjoy. I highly recommend the book to everyone.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is another prime example of magical realism. This novel is the history of both the Buendia family and where they live. The story begins with Jose Arcadio Buendia committing murder then follows the perpetrator as he struggles with his obsessions and guilt. The family and city develop with seemingly endless crises, moving in a cyclical pattern rather than moving in a forward direction lost amid shared dreams. The same mistakes and tragedies seem to repeat themselves until the inevitable fate prescribed for the family finally comes to pass. While this might sound fatalistic and depressing, the novel is in fact a compassionate story well worth exploring.
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende is another magical realism novel that follows a family. This story follows a family through four generations in an alternate reality that mirrors the political and social events of reality in twentieth century Chile. Here the magical element comes from some of the characters exhibiting psychic abilities. This blend of fiction, magic and some biographical family history from the author combine to create a uniquely satisfying read.

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie is a book about a transfer of political power with shades of mythology, faith and folk stories. The story follows Saleem Sinal, who is born in August of 1947 at the exact moment India became independent. His life follows a path that parallels that of his nation, complete with danger, poverty, chaos and greed. The magical element of this story lies in the abilities of all the children that share the moment of birth with Saleem. They each have a heightened sense, and our main character's ability is to literally smell change coming. While the story is not an easy read, the ideas and the history lesson included in the work make it well worth making the effort to finish.
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado is not for the faint of heart. In the example of magical realism we see a women lose her roguish husband when he dies while celebrating at a carnival to excess. She then marries a stable, bland pharmacist that is the ideal husband. However, she misses some sides of her deceased husband and somehow manages to call him back from the dead. She gets to have the best of both her husbands through mystical means. Ghostly hijinks and sexual situations are prevalent in this story.
Other authors you might want to explore in this genre include Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Pete Hamill, and Alice Hoffman.
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