Study Guide

Magic Realism Top Authors

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  • Franz Kafka

    Kafka was a Jewish Czech writer who wrote in the early 20th century in German, but in many ways his work prefigures the Magical Realist movement. That's because Kafka's texts are full of fantastic events that happen in seemingly mundane situations. Strange things happen all the time to his characters, and the world of his they live in often doesn't make sense.

    Kafka was a Jew living in Europe in the lead-up to World War II and the Holocaust, and the fantastic happenings in his works often allude to the crazy situation that Jews found themselves in at the time.

    "The Metamorphosis"

    A guy called Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find himself turned into a cockroach. The story gives no explanation for Gregor's transformation: we just watch as Gregor struggles to get himself out of bed, open the door, and try to talk to his family. His family, of course, is horrified. You probably would be, too, if your brother had suddenly turned into a giant bug.

    This story's got many of the hallmarks of the Magic Realist style. There's the matter-of-fact narrative voice as well as the sequence of fantastic events, and it's all mixed in with a good dose of the mundane: the whole story takes place right in the family home.

    The Trial

    In this novel by Kafka, a man is arrested and put on trial. The problem is: he doesn't know what crime he's being prosecuted for, and we readers are never told, either. It all seems absurd and crazy, but that's the whole point: life is kind of absurd and crazy sometimes.

    There's enough mundane detail in the novel to keep us grounded, but that doesn't change the fact that world this novel depicts is unpredictable, it's turned upside down, it's irrational. Things here just don't make sense.

    Chew on This:

    Kafka's Metamorphosis: it's a story about a guy who wakes up as a bug. Need we say more?

    In Kafka's world, absurd things happen all the time. In The Trial, a man finds himself prosecuted for a crime. The catch is he's never told what crime he's being accused of.

  • Gabriel García Márquez

    If there's one author who's a superstar within Magic Realism, it's totally Gabriel García Márquez. He's the guy who made Magic Realism into a global phenomenon with the publication of his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. In fact, he won the Nobel Prize in 1982 largely because of his role in the development of Magic Realism.

    In Márquez's works, anything can happen. People fly when they drink hot chocolate, an old man with enormous wings lands in someone's backyard, a baby is born with a pig's tail. Márquez is famous for his narrative style, which treats these magical events like regular, everyday occurrences.

    One Hundred Years of Solitude

    This is the novel that made Magic Realism the coolest thing around. It tells the story of one family living in a fictional town called Macondo in Colombia. Magical events happen all the time in Macondo, and the novel's protagonists take it all in stride. It's just a part of the world that they live in.

    The novel is famous for its matter-of-fact narrative style, which treats the fantastic as if it's ordinary and the ordinary as if it's fantastic: this novel really messes with our sense of reality. García Márquez famously said that he wrote the novel in the same tone of voice that his grandmother used to tell him ghost stories when he was a child. She used to talk about ghosts, and the supernatural, as though they were just, like, real.

    "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"

    García Márquez's short story is a great introduction to Magical Realism. It's short, it's fun, and it's got an old dude with enormous wings who just up lands in someone's backyard one day. Is he an angel? Is he Superman? Nah, he's just some guy with wings. No biggie.

    Here you'll find Márquez's famous matter-of-fact narrative voice, a bunch of fantastic events, and, of course, a good dose of regular, everyday life.

    Chew on This:

    One Hundred Years of Solitude is full of the magical and the fantastic.

    "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" is a great introduction to Gabriel García Márquez's Magical Realist style. And, hey, it's only a few pages long.

  • Jorge Luis Borges

    Borges was an Argentine writer famous for his short stories. The worlds in his stories mess with your head: they're incredible, they're complicated, and they raise all kinds of existential questions, like "Who am I?" and "What are the limits of the world?"

    Borges is often credited as the guy who opened up the way for the Magic Realist boom in South America. His experimentation with Surrealism influenced the generation of writers who emerged in the 1960s and popularized Magic Realism.


    Labyrinths is a collection of short stories and essays by Borges. He gets our heads spinning with stories about gardens with forking paths, a strange country called Uqbar, and a translator who tries to re-write Cervantes' famous novel Don Quixote.

    "The Library of Babel"

    "The Library of Babel," one of Borges' most famous short stories, takes place in—you guessed it—a library. But this is no ordinary library. For one thing, it's huge: there are endless bookshelves, there are duplicate books, and there are infinite corridors.

    Borges is dealing with his favorite themes: time, order and disorder, and literature itself. It's all about the books, baby.

    Chew on This:

    Borges's "The Garden of Forking Paths" raises all kinds of questions about time and reality. Get ready to scratch your head.

    Imagine if the universe were a library. Well, Borges imagined it in his story "The Library of Babel."

  • Salman Rushdie

    Rushdie's a South Asian writer famous for mixing historical facts and events with fantastic occurrences, specifically by writing about South Asian history with a magical perspective. He burst onto the scene with the publication of his novel Midnight's Children in 1980.

    Midnight's Children

    This is the book that made Rushdie famous. It tells the story of Saleem Sinai, a boy born at the exact moment of India's independence on August 15th, 1947. As a result, Saleem's destiny is tied to the destiny of his new nation. And he's gifted with telepathic powers that allow him to read people's thoughts.

    In Midnight's Children, Rushdie plays with time, mixes historical events with magical events, and narrates the whole thing through the voice of Saleem Sinai, a guy who really wants us to believe in all the extraordinary things he's sharing with us.

    Satanic Verses

    If Midnight's Children made Rushdie a famous writer, the Satanic Verses made him a political hero. That's because when the book was published, a bunch of clerics in Iran decided that the novel was disrespectful to Islam, and so they issued a death sentence on the author. Rushdie had to go into hiding for ten long years.

    The book tells the story of Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, two friends who miraculously survive the explosion of a hijacked plane. After their ordeal, they're both transformed: Farishta into the archangel Gibreel and Chamcha into the devil.

    Chew on This:

    Salman Rushdie does Magic Realism with a point of view in Midnight's Children, the story of Indian history told through the perspective of a narrator with magical powers.

    Rushdie's Magic Realist novel the Satanic Verses caused all kinds of controversy when it was first published—proof that fantasy can be politically charged and ruffle some serious feathers.

  • Isabel Allende

    Allende was the first South American female writer to reach an audience on a global scale. She did it with the publication of her first book, The House of Spirits, in 1982, and since then, she's become known as one of the most important writers of Magic Realism.

    What sets Allende's work apart is its emphasis on women characters. She tells the stories of South American women and their fight against the status quo, using good old Magic Realist techniques like the incorporation of the supernatural and the fantastic into an otherwise familiar reality.

    The House of the Spirits

    Here's a novel that tells the tale of a South American family, the Truebas, over several generations. Though the country is never explicitly named, we also get to see, through the Truebas' eyes, the story of Chile's political troubles.

    The novel's full of strong women, both in the home and outside of it. It's also full of clairvoyant characters, ghosts, and premonitions, to name just a few of the magical ingredients.

    The Stories of Eva Luna

    This is a collection of short stories narrated by Eva Luna, a young woman who has amazing storytelling powers. One night, Eva Luna's lover asks her to tell him a story she hasn't told anyone before. Instead of telling him one, she tells him twenty-three.

    Chew on This:

    We get a mix of the fantastic and the mundane in Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits, about a family living through turbulent times in South America.

    In Allende's The Stories of Eva Luna, we get 23 stories full of magical occurrences. We don't know about you, but we're totally hooked.

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