Fantastic Fables: The 10 Best Magical Realism Novels of All Time

best magical realism books
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* Magical Realism novels from classics to contemporaries
* Modern myths and surrealist romances
* Masterpieces of the genre from around the world

Fiction is always a work of the imagination. It was only with the relatively recent dominance of the realist style that the category of “magical realism” became a necessary genre. At once futuristic and recalling the oldest and most universal strains of literature, magical realism is a catch-all for deep, literary works that transcend the realist mode. Bordering fable on one side and science-fiction on the other, Magical Realist novels often include modern takes on mythological themes, surrealist novels and ghost stories. Here are 10 of our favorite magical realism novels of all time.

4 years
The Undergroung Railroad should be on this list. Coulson Whitehead is a genius.
4 years
You must include The Life & Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by ETA Hoffmann - a superb...

1. Like Water from Chocolate

Laura Esquivel’s first novel melts together elements of romance and fairy tale, including generations of culture in a kind of literary soap opera form. Like many classic novels, it’s organized in installments. But of course you can also read it all at once, and many find it deliciously hard to put down.

4 years
The Undergroung Railroad should be on this list. Coulson Whitehead is a genius.
4 years
You must include The Life & Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by ETA Hoffmann – a superb…

Like Water from ChocolateImage Courtesy Amazon


2. Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison’s perennial classic is more than just required reading; it’s a beautiful story and one of America’s most relevant contributions to the literary culture of the world.

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3. House of Spirits

Isabel Allende is one of the most prolific authors of magical realism, and her first novel, House of Spirits is one of the defining works of the genre. Spanning several decades and three generations, this book brings together mysticism and everyday life, the personal and the political, in a story that has become an essential touchstone of culture.

Isabel Allende House of the SpiritsImage Courtesy Amazon


4. Kafka on the Shore

One of Haruki Murakami’s most inventive and original works, Kafka on the Shore is a great intro to Murakami’s unique and complex world where literature takes on the musical power of motif and potent mythological traditions. This, combined with details of popular culture weave together breathtakingly intricate yet gripping stories.

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5. One Hundred Years of Solitude

Long considered one of the 20th century’s most important authors, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a master of magical realism, and One Hundred Years of Solitude – arguably his most famous work – is one of the books for which the term “magical realism” itself was first coined. Spanning seven generations in the town of Macondo, Colombia, it embodies the wide-reaching and profoundly interwoven stories that can only be told in the form of a magical realist work.

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6. The Time Traveler’s Wife

An artist and a time traveling librarian live out a love story for the ages in this beloved 2003 bestselling first novel from Audrey Nifflinger (adapted into a film starring Rachel McAdams in 2009.) The Time Traveler’s Wife is a contemporary magical realist book that brings the classic grand themes and big ideas of the genre into a modern form.

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7. The Girl with Glass Feet

Recalling classic fairy tales and Hans Christian Andersen, this 2011 novel drew wide praise for being both magical and grounded. Taking place on a remote, ice-bound set of islands that evoke a timeless sense of mythical loss and longing, it tells a love story starring a girl seeking a cure for the mysterious condition that is slowly turning her into glass.

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8. The Satanic Verses

More than just the novel that nearly got Salman Rushdie killed, The Satanic Verses is a modern day epic, and one of the most important novels of our time. Mixing magical realism with postmodernism and recalling the scope and ambition of high modernist novels, the book chronicles the mystical tale of two Indian actors who fall to earth and find themselves transformed into living symbols of creation and destruction.

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9. The Library of Babel and Other Stories

Jorge Louis Borges, one of the most towering figures of 20th century world literature, is perhaps the foremost representative of the mythical-fabulist school of magical realism. This collection includes some of his most famous works including the masterpiece “The Library of Babel,” which might be the most concise thing ever written about the problem of consciousness and the search for the infinite.

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10. Midnight’s Children

Midnight’s Children, often considered Salman Rushdie’s masterpiece, is a prime example of how magical realism is uniquely able to unite the personal and the cosmic. Born on the stroke of midnight August 15, 1947, the very instant of India’s independence as a country, Saleem Sinai is both an individual and an embodiment of history itself, finding as he lives his life that he is bound to the life of his country with a link that recalls some of the oldest forms of “magic.”

midnight's childrenImage Courtesy Amazon