Gateway Books: Magical Realism

If you’ve always wanted to know what magical realism is or get a few book recommendations in this genre, read on. Click on the book covers to find the books on Amazon. 

A few years ago, I read a book that introduced me to a genre of books I hadn’t experienced before: Magical Realism. It was one of those reading experiences I remember so fiercely. It challenged many of the usual pictures I create in my mind’s eye when reading and replaced them with curiosities I could question as abstracts yet accept as completely real.

Considered to stem from Latin American Literature, magical realism is not only a genre of narrative fiction, but also a concept seen in paintings, films, and a variety of different areas of art. It’s one of those genres that leaves most readers confused because they often can’t quite identify what it is about a piece, but know something is strangely well, magical. These elements of magic and the supernatural tend to exist in an otherwise ordinary world. The balance is difficult to achieve yet perfectly splendid when it does because it refuses to reveal everything to the reader.

Here are five books to add to your reading list if the appeal of the imaginary blending with the ordinary is to your tastes. I encourage you to explore this genre and discover for yourself if magic really is real.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava — in all other ways a normal girl — is born with the wings of a bird. In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naive to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the summer solstice celebration. That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo. First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris
In tiny Lansquenet, where nothing much has changed in a hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows. Each box of luscious bonbons comes with a free gift: Vianne’s uncanny perception of its buyer’s private discontents and a clever, caring cure for them. Is she a witch? Soon the parish no longer cares, as it abandons itself to temptation, happiness, and a dramatic face-off between Easter solemnity and the pagan gaiety of a chocolate festival. Chocolat’s every page offers a description of chocolate to melt in the mouths of chocoholics, francophiles, armchair gourmets, cookbook readers, and lovers of passion everywhere. It’s a must for anyone who craves an escapist read, and is a bewitching gift for any holiday.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart—he, breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she, crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place, things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (considered one of the first books using Magical Realism)
One of the twentieth century’s most beloved and acclaimed novels, One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendia family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women—brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul—this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina
Sixteen-year-old Sonia Ocampo was born on the night of the worst storm Tres Montes had ever seen. And when the winds mercifully stopped, an unshakable belief in the girl’s protective powers began. All her life, Sonia has been asked to pray for sick mothers or missing sons, as worried parents and friends press silver milagros in her hands. Sonia knows she has no special powers, but how can she disappoint those who look to her for solace? Still, her conscience is heavy, so when she gets a chance to travel to the city and work in the home of a wealthy woman, she seizes it. At first, Sonia feels freedom in being treated like all the other girls. But when news arrives that her beloved brother has disappeared while looking for work, she learns to her sorrow that she can never truly leave the past or her family behind. With deeply realized characters, a keen sense of place, a hint of magical realism, and a flush of young romance, Meg Medina tells the tale of a strong willed, warmhearted girl who dares to face life’s harsh truths as she finds her real power.

Shelf talk: Have you read any of these books? Have other recommendations? Let us know in the comments section. 

Gateway Book: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

As I face down a busy day and a working weekend that promises to be anything but reading friendly, I’m sharing a quick, fun post on a gateway book, a book that introduced me to a literary niche I didn’t know about but now really enjoy. Discussing our differing opinions on the subject of Christina’s post (which I can’t wait for you to read tomorrow) brought up the subject of perspective. One of my superpowers as a writer and human is a natural inclination to seek out new perspectives and ways to look at things. This discussion reminded me of a book I’d read, a gateway book that introduce me to a literary niche I now really enjoy–and yo might, as well. WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, so if you’re wanting to be surprised by that literary classic, you might want to wait to read this one.

My cover doesn’t look like this one, but I like it!

When I was in college, I read Wide Sargasso Sea for one of my many (many) English classes. SPOILER ALERT: It’s the story of the madwoman in the attic in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester’s “crazy” wife. In this book, Jean Rhys shifts the perspective of the reader from seeing “the mad woman” (who Rhys names Antoinette) the way Bronte’s characters see her. Here, we learn how Antoinette grew up, when she met Rochester, how they came to be married, and what really drove her “mad.”

I have to admit I’ve never read Jane Eyre. Even before I read Wide Sargasso Sea, it never sat well with me that people were so swept up in JE that they completely overlooked or forgave Rochester for having a whole woman locked away in the attic, a woman he was married to, while falling in love with another. Nothing about any of that said romance to me. I’m the person who would read something like that and go “wait, what? Pause. I need to know how we got here.” That aspect of the story always turned me off. I never imagined someone else wanted to give this woman an identity and a voice, let alone that they’d written a book that did exactly that.

I’ve always loved art that helps you see something you’ve always seen in a new way. Everyone is the main character in their own story. The best stories manage to help the reader see the story from several different points of view. The moment I read Wide Sargasso Sea, I realized there were books that flipped the stories we’re all familiar with on their head simply by shifting the perspective from who’s on the main stage in the original to a different character. The Wind Done Gone has been on my list for a long time, though I haven’t gotten around to it yet. The play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard is also on this list. The literary parodies of Gone with the Wind and Hamlet, respectively, these two are perfect examples of how telling a classic tale from a lesser known viewpoint completely changes the story.

I haven’t had the opportunity to read many of these stories since I graduated college, but I’d love to find more.

Are you a fan of classic stories told from a different perspective? What are some of your favorite books in this literary niche?