9 Enchanting Books for Readers of Magical Realism

May 2 2019
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If you find yourself wishing the world was just a bit more magical, it’s time to delve into the enchanting realm of magical realism. Originating in Latin America, the genre blends the realism of everyday life with glimmers of enchantment and fantastical elements, often also incorporating political and social commentary. These novels are steeped in magic but grounded in weighty issues and the human condition. Ready to embark on a journey like no other? Here are nine magical realist tales to get you started.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez

Often considered one of the founders of the genre, Gabriel García Márquez has written many enchanting classics, including this masterwork that chronicles the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. It is filled with unforgettable characters and lyrical enchantment.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

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In the Midst of Winter
by Isabel Allende

During a snowstorm, Richard Bowmaster, a lonely university professor, hits the car of Evelyn Ortega, a young undocumented immigrant, who then comes to his house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant, Lucia Maraz, for her advice. As these three lives intertwine, each will discover truths about how they have been shaped by the tragedies they witnessed, and Richard and Lucia will find unexpected love.

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In the Midst of Winter
Isabel Allende

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Midnight's Children
by Salman Rushdie

At the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, at the exact moment of India’s independence, 1,000 children throughout India are born, endowed with magical gifts and telepathically linked to one another. Saleem Sinai is one of them; and as he grows up, he finds that his every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs.

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Midnight's Children
Salman Rushdie

This novel is at once a fascinating family saga and an astonishing evocation of a vast land and its people–a brilliant incarnation of the universal human comedy. Twenty-five years after its publication, Midnight’ s Children stands apart as both an epochal work of fiction and a brilliant performance by one of the great literary voices of our time.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston

This classic novel follows Janie Crawford as she sets out to be her own person—no mean feat for a black woman in the 1930s. Janie's quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston

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Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance
by Ruth Emmie Lang

Weylyn Grey isn’t like other people. From being able to conjure freak storms and trees that appear to grow overnight, his unique abilities are a curiosity at best and at worst, a danger to himself and the people around him, especially the woman he loves.

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Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance
Ruth Emmie Lang

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Once Upon a River
by Diane Setterfield

When the lifeless body of a young girl washes up on the shores of a small community, a puzzling mystery begins to unravel as the young girl miraculously comes back to life. Three families are ready to take the stranger in—one convinced she’s their kipnapped daughter, another sees the spitting image of his younger sister, and the third are certain she’s their son’s secret lovechild. But the child herself is mute and unable to answer a few basic questsions: Who is she? And where did she come from?

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Once Upon a River
Diane Setterfield

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The Astonishing Color of After
by Emily X. R. Pan

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: when her mother committed suicide, she turned into a bird. So Leigh travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time, hoping to find her mother, the bird, there as well. In her search, she winds up chasing ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents.

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The Astonishing Color of After
Emily X. R. Pan

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MENTIONED IN:

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles
by Haruki Murakami

In a Tokyo suburb, a young man searches for his wife’s missing cat—and then for his wife—in a world beneath the city’s surface. Gripping, prophetic, and suffused with comedy and menace, this imaginative detective story is an account of a disintegrating marriage and an excavation of the secrets from Japan’s forgotten campaign in Manchuria during World War II.

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles
Haruki Murakami

In one of Murakami's best, a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife's missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a psychic prostitute, a politician, a teenage girl, and an aging war veteran.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward

Thirteen-year-old Jojo and his younger sister accompany their mother on a trip through Mississippi to pick up their father from the state penitentiary. This evocative family saga examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power—and limitations—of family bonds.

Read the full review of SING, UNBURIED, SING.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing
Jesmyn Ward

WINNER of the NATIONAL BOOK AWARD and A NEW YORK TIMES TOP 10 BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

A finalist for the Kirkus Prize, Andrew Carnegie Medal, Aspen Words Literary Prize, and a New York Times bestseller, this majestic, stirring, and widely praised novel from two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, the story of a family on a journey through rural Mississippi, is a “tour de force” (O, The Oprah Magazine) and a timeless work of fiction that is destined to become a classic.

Jesmyn Ward’s historic second National Book Award–winner is “perfectly poised for the moment” (The New York Times), an intimate portrait of three generations of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. “Ward’s writing throbs with life, grief, and love… this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it” (Buzzfeed).

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic and unforgettable family story and “an odyssey through rural Mississippi’s past and present” (The Philadelphia Inquirer).

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