Ten Great Magic Realist Authors

Magic realism is a hard genre to define. Some have claimed that it is simply another name for fantasy. Yet calling the writer's on this list "fantasy writers" seems far too limiting. They have almost nothing in common with writers like J. R. R. Tolkin and C. S. Lewis. They have virtually nothing in common with dark fantasy writers like Neil Gaiman or Clive Barker. Their work often seems more like literary fiction but with a use of the surreal or fantastic elements as a metaphor. But even among these authors there is a great deal of stylistic differences. One might be dark while another whimsical. One might sit on the margins of literary fiction another on the margins of science fiction. These are ten of the best authors to have worked in the style that is called "magic realism."

KOBO ABE

While Abe has influenced countless numbers of American horror writers, his work remains largely unknown to American readers. Abe's novels portray a nightmarish and surreal look at modern life that rides the line between horror and realistic fiction by keeping his horrors close to real life and psychologically metaphoric fears.

His most famous novel, Woman in the Dunes, is a surreal story about an entomologist looking for insects in the desert and the strange widow he gets involved with. The Face of Another is about a man who receives a face transplant and has his whole life transformed by the perception that he is somebody else. His closest to actual horror, Kangaroo Notebook, has a protagonist who wakes up with radishes growing out of his legs and descends into an underworld of bizarre creatures.

CHRIS ADRIAN

Chris Adrian was a pediatrician and part time fiction writer when 9/11 changed his perspective on the world. Adrian returned to school, this time as a divinity student at Harvard, and his fiction began to deal with spiritual themes.

Adrian's second novel, The Children's Hospital, is a surreal masterpiece about a worldwide flood and the workers and patients of a children's hospital who float along, trying to build a new life within the hospital. His short story collection, A Better Angel, deals with themes of a religious nature like "the problem of evil" and the loss of childhood innocence. Adrian is one of the most intellectually curious of modern religious thinkers. His newest novel The Great Night was released this year.

JORGE LUIS BORGES

Argentine born Borges is often called the "father of magic realism" even though there are writers before him who can be seen as magic realists (one is on this list) and some argue that he is only a precursor to magic realism. What is clear is that Borges writing is some of the most influential of the 20th century and he has influenced the direction of Spanish Language writers

Borges never wrote a novel, preferring the form of short stories. Still, his fiction created worlds as vivid as any novel and can transform readers to places beyond their wildest imagination.

GÜNTER GRASS

Grass is best known for his trilogy of books called "The Danzig trilogy." The three books are self contained but are thematically linked in the sense that they all deal with the changing of German identity after World War 2. All three novels are about his childhood and deal with the rise of Nazism within that country.

The Tin Drum remains his most famous work. The novel is about a boy who "refuses to grow up", literally retaining the stature of a child while retaining and adult mind and living through World War 2. Cat and Mouse portrays a more straightforward story of the lose of German innocence but through a number of stylistically inventive devices, such as second person narration. Dog Years parodies the works of philosopher Martin Heidegger, while dealing with a friendship between a Jewish and a gentile boy on the eve of World War 2.

FRANZ KAFKA

Some regard Kafka as the original magic realist while others want to disqualify him from this category altogether. One thing is certain, Kafka's creepy short stories and novels (all unfinished when he died) have made a huge impact on the surreal and fantastic literature that was to follow.

Kafka is also linked to the the philosophy of Existentialism. This is due to the themes of novels like The Trial, in which a man is accused of a crime but does not know what the crime is that he has been accused of. In The Castle, the protagonist seeks to find the truth behind the rulers of a village. Amerika portrays a nightmarish journey to the United States. Kafka himself had never visited America and his depiction of the country is not entirely accurate. Whether this was purposeful or an oversight is open to debate.

JONATHAN LETHEM

Having started as a straight, if rather quirky, science fiction novelist, Lethem has started to expand his work in a way that many have called magic realism. His work still contains a number of sci-fi tropes but he has abandoned the story structures of genre novels (two of his books are also detective novels) in favor of explorations of character and metaphoric uses of the fantastic.

His novel The Fortress of Solitude tells the story of two Brooklyn comic book obsessed kids, one white the other black, who find a ring that gives them superpowers. The short stories of his third collection Men in Cartoons, has a wide collection of stories that introduce the fantastic into the mundane. His most resent, Chronic City, embraces full blown postmodernism, as he portrays characters that live within a sci-fi world that may be a virtual reality simulation.

GABRIEL GARCIA MÁRQUEZ

Probably the most famous writer associated with magic realism, Márquez is actually one of the most subtle. His work borrows techniques from Borges to try and disorient the reader and transport them to a different time and place. From Columbia, he is considered one of the representational authors of Latin American literature.

One Hundred Years of Solitude tells a branching story of one family over a century. His romantic novel Love in the Time of Colera portrays love sickness as if it is a literal disease. His short stories, such as The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World, are haunting and beautiful in equal measure.

TONI MORRISON

Morrison uses magic realism to portray the black experience in America, using the fantastic elements to contrast the brutality and sadness that many of her stories portray. Many of her novels portray the life of African Americans during slavery or shortly after abolition.

Morrison's first book, The Bluest Eyes, is a harrowing tale of a black girl growing up in Ohio right after the great depression. Her breakthrough work, Song of Solomon, uses magic realist techniques and storytelling to portray the life of an African American man's life from birth to adulthood and the story of his family. Her most acclaimed book, Beloved, is an outright ghost story, where a former slave woman is haunted by the spirit of her dead child.

HARUKI MURAKAMI

Probably the most humorous writer on this list, Murakami enjoys finding humor in the absurd. His work is filled with offbeat characters, funny situations and jokes about philosophy and pop culture. This has made the Japanese writer a favorite all over the world, even if his love of American culture and American authors has made him deemed "not authentically Japanese."

The Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World mixes sci-fi and detective novel elements while never really conforming to the conventions of either genre. The coming of age novel Norwegian Wood was such a huge hit in Japan that Murakami became annoyed with now being a huge celebrity. Kafka on the Shore tells two alternating stories, one about a teenage runaway and the other about a mentally disabled man who can talk to cats. His newest 1Q84, soon to be released in the US, is said to be his magnum opus and is his take on Orwell's 1984.

SALMAN RUSHDIE

Indian-British novelist Rushdie was raised Muslim and in India where the influence of Christianity and Hindi is also very strong. He often throws these three religious traditions into a stew, with elements of sci-fi, fantasy and comic books for good measure. The result has gotten him into trouble, but he has continued to enjoy a passionate following and critical praise for his complex works.

His second novel, Midnight's Children, tells the story of children born at the stroke of midnight on the eve of India's independence, and the magical powers that each of them have gained. The Satanic Verses, is a religious satire and got Rushdie marked for death. His latest, The Enchantress of Florence, combines historical storytelling with playful fantasy.

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Comments 6 comments

FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

I'm more familiar with Kafka in his existentalism writings.

I've never considered magic realism with Toni Morrison before. I'll have to reread her with that in mind.


Robephiles profile image

Robephiles 5 years ago Author

Beloved is probably the novel that the best case for magic realism could be made. Song of Solomon also has that kind of surreal tone that Marquez does. She is one of those who is closest to actual realism though. This style is so hard to define that we could argue about who to include and not to include over and over and never get an answer. I considered including Margaret Atwood too but decided she didn't quite fit but she is really close.


MSantana profile image

MSantana 4 years ago from Madison Wisconsin

Garcia-Marquez is also a classic of magic realism, that didn't come across here. I thank you for this review, magic realism is superb!


Claudia Tello profile image

Claudia Tello 4 years ago from Mexico

Wow, this is a fantastic list to come to when one is looking for a good book to read. I am a Gabriel García Márquez fan and I have read 3 of Murakami´s books as well as Metamorphosis by Kafka, but none of the other authors you mention. I´ll get back to this hub.

Voted up, useful and interesting.


Music-and-Art-45 profile image

Music-and-Art-45 4 years ago from USA, Illinois

I got into magical realism a few years ago through Garcia-Marquez and Murakami. I've been looking to read more magical realist styled books, so this compilation you have made will be able to help me do that.


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

I did not previously know about some of these authors, and I am glad to learn about them.

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