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The Best Magical Realism Books You Haven’t Read

Go beyond the most popular magical realism books and read these hidden gems.

Magical realism refers to the genre of literature that enriches realistic narratives with elements of fantasy. Think: Sad housewife carries on affair with mythical sea monster (see below; you won’t regret it). And though you might be familiar with the genre’s most famous authors, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges, the canon has expanded beyond One Hundred Years of Solitude. Here, 15 bewitching fantasies you haven’t read. Yet.

Related: 8 Short Story Books to Celebrate Jorge Luis Borges 

Buy The Dead Wife's Handbook at Amazon

The Dead Wife's Handbook

By Hannah Beckerman

Sometimes, death isn’t the end. It’s only the beginning. In former film producer Hannah Beckerman’s debut novel, she explores the stages of grief from both sides of the grave: through the eyes of Rachel, a 36-year-old mom who dies suddenly, and the daughter and husband she left behind.

The Dead Wife's Handbook

By Hannah Beckerman

Buy A Floating Life at Amazon

A Floating Life

By Tad Crawford

An unidentified male narrator takes readers through a sequence of oddball experiences that include birthing a baby, chatting up a one-eyed chef, and encountering a volcanic maze goddess. If it sounds like a rabbit hole suitable for Alice, it’s because it is. Just go with it.

A Floating Life

By Tad Crawford

Buy Magic for Beginners at Amazon

Magic for Beginners

By Kelly Lunk

Escape your reality for one where witches are filled with ants that carry time on their backs. Or where a village thrives inside a purse made from a dog. Kelly Link’s nine-story anthology is an exercise in imagination and light horror, and though its title calls upon amateurs, all skill levels are welcome.

Magic for Beginners

By Kelly Lunk

Buy Flight at Amazon

Flight

By Sherman Alexie

When a Native American teenager who goes by Zits gets into a fit of rage, he’s magically transported to different times and places, which all have one thing in common: they're violent. From the Civil Rights era to Little Big Horn to Indian trackers in the 19th century, Zits sees the aftermath of rage first hand. 

Buy The Other Side of the Sun at Amazon

The Other Side of the Sun

By Madeleine L'Engle

Set in the Antebellum South just after the Civil War, Madeleine L’Engle’s supernatural tale plays with good and evil. At its core is Stella, who is sent to live with her husband’s aristocratic family–and their dark secrets. And though it was published decades ago in 1971, its themes–greed, power, hate–remain pertinent decades later.

The Other Side of the Sun

By Madeleine L'Engle

Buy The Famished Road at Amazon

The Famished Road

By Ben Okri

Ben Okri blends fabulism into realism for an influential Man Booker Prize winner depicting post-colonial Nigeria’s path to independence. The drama unfolds through Azaro, a spirit child who is pushed and pulled between worlds of life and death. A ghost story at its core, Azaro's story is more unsettling folklore than flight of fancy.

The Famished Road

By Ben Okri

Buy Mama Day at Amazon

Mama Day

By Gloria Naylor

Settle in for a page-turner of love, family, and mysticism with a Shakespearean twist. The scene: New York City and an island off the coast of Georgia. The players: George and Cocoa, a pair of star-crossed lovers whose matters of the heart are tested by matters of Mama Day’s magic.

Mama Day

By Gloria Naylor

Buy The Daughter of the Doctor and the Saint at Amazon

The Daughter of the Doctor and the Saint

By Edward Swift

A story with characters as vibrant as the writing is rich, Swift’s fairy tale is a family saga that employs a magical bent. Meet the Esperons, a remarkable crew whose good intentions can’t outweigh their vicious turn of fate. That is, until a daughter finds her long-awaited retribution. Translation: sweet revenge.

The Daughter of the Doctor and the Saint

By Edward Swift

Buy Things Invisible to See at Amazon

Things Invisible to See

By Nancy Willard

Newberry winner Nancy Willard constructs a wartime fantasy that plays with life and death. The story unfurls through Clare, who’s paralyzed but can talk to Death; Ben, who leaves Michigan for the war; and Willie, Ben’s twin who stays put. Their fates? Decided by America’s favorite pastime: a game of baseball.

Things Invisible to See

By Nancy Willard

Buy Heart of Aztlan at Amazon

Heart of Aztlan

By Rudolfo Anaya

You’ve heard about stories of explorers searching for their lost cities in the Amazon and mortals seeking a utopian paradise in the Kunlun Mountains. This is a story about a blind seer who happens upon a barrio in Albuquerque, recruiting a family to an elusive mirage in the heart of Aztlan.

Heart of Aztlan

By Rudolfo Anaya

Buy Signal to Noise at Amazon

Signal to Noise

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Long before Nick and Norah were curating their infinite playlist, teens Meche, Sebastian, and Daniela were casting magical spells with their vinyl. The story begins with Meche heading home for her father’s funeral and thus confronting the unresolved issues of her teen years and the spells she took too far.

Signal to Noise

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Buy Mrs. Caliban at Amazon

Mrs. Caliban

By Rachel Ingalls

In what could be considered a feminist novella and most definitely regarded “one of the greatest novels since WWII,” we meet Dorothy, a forgotten housewife whose severe grief is washed away by her love affair with a six-foot sea monster. This is one quickie that will stick with you long after its final page.

Mrs. Caliban

By Rachel Ingalls

Buy Fortune's Daughter at Amazon

Fortune's Daughter

By Alice Hoffman

You may know Alice Hoffman as the creator of Practical Magic, the most famous example of her putting magical realism to good use. In Fortune's Daughter, two devastated women—an expectant single mother and a jaded fortune-teller who lost her own child—explore their pasts and decide their futures. Hoffman infuses the story with touches of fantasy by setting the novel in California's mythical "earthquake season," a time of great chance and change.

Related: 9 of Our Favorite Alice Hoffman Books 

Fortune's Daughter

By Alice Hoffman

Buy The Salt Roads at Amazon

The Salt Roads

By Nalo Hopkinson

Ezili—the Afro-Caribbean goddess of love and sexual desire—has entered the physical world and is inhabiting the bodies of multiple women across multiple timelines. According to Kirkus Reviews, the story is a “sexy, disturbing, touching, wildly comic...tour de force” that combines folklore, fantasy, and the history of women and slavery. 

The Salt Roads

By Nalo Hopkinson

Buy Tropic of Orange at Amazon

Tropic of Orange

By Karen Tei Yamashita

This combination of film noir, hip hop, chicanismo and magical realism tells the story seven distinct characters in an imagined Los Angeles. Described as “David Foster Wallace meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez,” (Publisher’s Weekly), it’s a novel that’s sure to be worth your time. 

Tropic of Orange

By Karen Tei Yamashita

Buy The Man with Two Arms at Amazon

The Man with Two Arms

By Billy Lombardo

In a heartfelt story that combines magical realism with baseball, ambidextrous Danny grows up to be a star athlete, partially because his father Henry, a teacher and baseball fanatic, trained him from a young age. But their success may be short-lived when a former student of Henry’s exaggerates about his expression for the sake of selling a story. 

The Man with Two Arms

By Billy Lombardo

Buy Drenched at Amazon

Drenched

By Marisa Matarazzo

In this collection of short stories, Marisa Matarazzo plays with the idea of love and the many ways it affects us. From an accidental batch of love potion to using sex acts to raise a boat's mast (many of the stories involve water), Drenched will have you falling, swimming and drowning in love.

Drenched

By Marisa Matarazzo

Buy A Tree or a Person or a Wall at Amazon

A Tree or a Person or a Wall

By Matt Bell

A boy is locked in a room with an albino ape. The story of Red Riding Hood is reimagined, over and over again. A 19th century minister creates a motor that will incite the Second Coming. In each story, Matt Bell tweaks the world as we know it just enough to raise the hairs on your neck.

A Tree or a Person or a Wall

By Matt Bell

Featured photo: Christopher Campbell / Unsplash 

Published on 16 May 2017

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