In a magical realist story there must be an irreducible element, something that cannot be explained by logic, familiar knowledge, or received belief.”

~David Young and Keith Hollaman

Magical realism is a radically complicated literary mode. It’s so complicated that I get uncomfortable every time I hear someone describe a work of literature as a work of magical realism. In some ways, the label strips language of its power.

I mean, why wouldn’t language have the ability to describe the liminal space between the fantastic, the uncanny, and the marvelous while simultaneously creating and reflecting reality? Of course language can do that – not only is language that good, language will do whatever it wants.

Nonetheless, thinkers in the early twentieth century felt we needed the label. What ends up happening is that the works of writers like Murakami are plastered with the label despite his insistence that what his writing is not that. Despite his protestations, some – not all – of his works do embody many of the characteristics of the genre of magical realism. In fact, very few writers appreciate the label – Salman Rushdie, for example, is one of the few to celebrate it.

The books below are some of the best books I found on magical realism that I consulted again and again as I prepared my materials for the course Murakami & Magical Realism. If you’re interested in the literary mode of magical realism, HERE is a more extensive list.

Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community

Editors: Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris

“Mind and body, spirit and matter, life and death, real and imaginary, self and other, male and female: these are boundaries to be erased, transgressed, blurred, brought together, or otherwise fundamentally refashioned in magical realist texts.”

This is your bible on magical realism and a book I heartily recommend if you are interested in the way magical realism functions. This book includes essays from 24 different thinkers writing on the topic. As the title suggests, the many writers cover the theories, histories, and communities but there is also another vitally important component included which the editors refer to as “Foundations.” The foundation of magical realism has to do with where the term comes from and how it evolves from Franz Roh’s (German post-expressionist painter) first utterance of it in 1925 to the literary hotbed of Latin America. This foundation is crucial to understanding the term’s complexity. Find the book HERE.

Magic(al) Realism

Author: Maggie Ann Bowers

“This book will distinguish between ‘magic realism’ as

 the concept of the ‘mystery [that] does not descend to the represented world, but rather hides and palpitates behind it’ and ‘magical realism’ that is understood, in Salman Rushdie’s words, as the ‘commingling of the improbably and the mundane.’

Maggie Ann Bowers presents magical realism in a comprehensive way by introducing the terms, tracing the histories, and describing the variations across cultures. Her final chapter in this work is a brief discussion on the future of magical realism. Regarding its future, Bowers wonders how the literary mode will continue to evolve once the reading public is more knowledgeable of the nuances and problems of the genre. This is a great overview of the literary mode and synthesizes many of the ideas presented in the first work I mentioned above. Find the book HERE.

Magical Realist Fiction: An Anthology

Editors: David Young and Keith Hollaman

“Many of our waking moments are spent out of touch with our own imaginations. When something puts us back in tought without cutting us off from our wakefulness, we feel bigger, wiser, more at home in the world.”

I consider this book one of the best on the subject for a few reasons – the first reason is that the editors write an introduction that is referenced by many of the author authors and thinkers writing on this genre. Because of that, it is important to read their articulation of the genre for yourself. Secondly, it is an anthology of magical realist short stories. In other words, it is a collection of various works of magical realism that display the characteristics of the genre in creative and interesting ways from a range of authors located all over the world. Their introductory comments on each story are very brief, which allows the reader to analyze and experience the magic for herself. There are a total of 35 short stories or excerpts from novels that are included from authors like Thomas Mann, Virgina Woolf, Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and so many more. Find the book HERE.

Recommended Reading

The Best Books for Studying Magical Realism