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We think that we can all agree that most of the time, reality sucks. Especially if said reality begins borrowing elements from some of the stories we loved reading when we were growing up. It doesn’t help that what reality seems to be coopting are the horrible things from said stories.
We have bumbling Death Eaters, the guardians of the galaxy using force (not THE Force) to protect us, birthday or tea parties with Tweedledumbs, and our leaders speaking Klingon for all we know and from what we understand from them (we don’t, actually), among others. The real icing on the cake is, of course, the deadly pandemic currently ravaging the world with no vaccine or cure in sight. Lovely times, right?
In case you’re looking for escapist media to entertain yourself or, well, you know, escape. We have just the list for you. We picked magical realist novels because these gems come from a literature genre that seamlessly blend magic and reality, hence the name. The magic manifests in the story naturally like it has always been there, just waiting to be utilized. The most apt description that we can give for this genre is its dream-like feel. Reading a magical realist novel feels like dreaming – there are fantastic elements every now and then but they are still grounded in reality. Cats don’t talk, right? So why is that cat smiling at you and asking you to follow it?
Anyway, enough talk from us. Here’s the list of novels, a magical realist sampler if you will.
1. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
When you’re reading Murakami, there are always a couple of constants that you have to expect: suicide, infidelity, some weird animal, and magic that feels natural for the story. It’s mostly the same here, and of course, there’s the superb storytelling. We won’t go into more details but suffice to say that we consider this the best Murakami book there is, so far.
Quote: “Maybe someday you would find me, and hold me, and sweep away the filth that was clinging to me, and take me away from that place forever. Maybe you would smash the curse and set the seal so that the real me would never have to leave again.”
2. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
Ah, the quintessential Lit class novel and the story that our emo selves back in high school probably resonated the most with. Well, for starters, the main theme is somewhere along the lines of lovesickness as an actual disease. Or, you know, love is nothing more than a deadly plague that needs to be sated to be cured. Plus points to the unrequited love part of this novel, one thing that our younger selves would surely find affinity with.
Quote: "Think of love as a state of grace: not the means to anything but the alpha and omega, an end in itself.”
3. Like Water for Chocolates by Laura Esquivel
A novel that also moonlights as a recipe book. Every chapter contains a recipe for a dish that’s somehow pivotal to the chapter’s plot. The featured dish was either prepared or consumed during the timeframe of the chapter. Reading this invokes a feeling of nostalgia for Mexican TV series that our parents used to watch religiously when we were kids. This time, though, the evil mother-in-law was an… avenging spirit.
Quote: "Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can't strike them all by ourselves; we need oxygen and a candle to help. In this case, the oxygen for example, would come from the breath of the person you love; the candle would be any kind of food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that lights one of the matches."
4. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Oh boy, how do we start with this one. This is definitely one of the heavier reads on this list but definitely worth reading. The plot of the novel revolves around the life of one of midnight’s children – the babies that were born the midnight India declared independence from British rule. These babies were magical, their powers depending on how close to midnight they were born. The novel spans the history of India from independence to the wars against her neighbors, Pakistan and China.
Quote: “Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me… I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you'll have to swallow a world.”
5. So Far from God by Ana Castillo
While this novel does have several instances of levity, it presents a serious take on the social issues that Chicanos (a person of Mexican descent living in the United States) face – exploitation, violence, and materialism, among others. Through the fictional Sofi and her daughters, Castillo blends these social issues with traditional Mexican folklore laced with Catholicism and further woven with magic.
Quote: "Is this an act of God or of Satan that brings you back to us, that has flown you up to the roof like a bird? Are you the devil’s messenger or a winged angel?"
Now, what we listed here is just the tip of a massive iceberg of other magical realist works. More often than not, the authors of the above works also have other novels in the genre. There’s Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, and Sapogonia by Ana Castillo.
Some of these are a bit heavy reading, but hey, if you have nothing else to do, why not? Also, we selected magical realist novels because the genre itself is a celebration of alternatives to accepted realities. The sucky reality that we have now is not all there is, not the only world in existence. Just like what this totally non-magical realist author once quipped in the 19th century. Said author remarked that another world is not just a possibility but also very much necessary.
And somehow, that is a comforting thought.
Archieval Mariano is a self-styled digital storyteller.