The Story Sisters
Hoffman’s novel is, at times, dark—but it’s also dreamlike, capturing Elv, Claire, and Meg, three sisters who each have their own way of dealing with life’s challenges, including navigating the world with wild stories and imagination. This book will remind you of the ups and downs of adolescence (with a little extra mysticism).
The Cake Therapist
Protagonist Claire has been given a blessing and a curse: the ability to taste feelings. As a baker, she uses her unique skill to make cakes for customers based on what they need, but when her husband’s infidelity unexpectedly sends her back to her hometown, she begins to use her ability in a surprising new way. Cakes + magical realism = one delectable story.
Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel García Márquez
When Florentino’s one true love leaves him to marry a wealthy doctor, he spends the rest of his life engaging in 622 affairs. As he holds out for his soulmate, supernatural weather and irrational details construct an enticing novel with an imaginative—and emotional—ending. Another Márquez work for the books.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
If you haven’t read Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, this is a great place start. Chronicle introduces us to Toru, who embarks on a journey to find his missing cat and wife after they mysteriously disappear. During his adventure, he discovers he has the power to travel in his dreams, and meets a set of sisters with psychic abilities, plus many other fantastical characters. The further you read, the more magical the book gets.
The Tiger's Wife
In this novel set during the Balkan wars, Obreht’s narrator Natalia is shaken by the death of her grandfather. Throughout the novel, she returns to the whimsical fables and tales he used to tell her as a child, which motivate her to dig more deeply into his history and the life he led—with particular interest in the haunting tale of a rogue tiger. Her discoveries—and Obreht’s work—are both enchanting and mysterious.
Oyeyemi has said she’d prefer not to use the term magical realism to describe her works, but there’s no denying the tool is prevalent in her books, especially this one. In a story about a writer named Mr. Fox who’s inspired by an imaginary muse, we also meet a character who rolls in a bed filled with words; a Yoruba woman who dances with her deceased husband; and, in a nod to the title, a fox who tears the word “fox” from a dictionary. Oyeyemi’s prose feels like a contemporary fairytale you’ll want to read again and again.
You’ve likely seen the movie starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, but trust us, the book is way better (though the big-screen visuals of all those baked goods was quite drool-worthy). When chocolate confectioner and single mother Vianne Rocher arrives to a small French town with her daughter, she turns the place upside down with the magical abilities she uses as secret ingredients in her goods. Lovely, to stay the least.
When you hear magical realism, you may think of lighthearted supernatural events and delightful spells. But Morrison’s novel is far from that: the heartbreaking tale of slavery is centered on a slave that’s haunted by the ghost of the baby she lost. Morrison’s book is painful but poetic; not exactly a carefree read, but a necessary one.
Smith’s 1999 debut novel coined the term “hysterical realism,” a twist on magical realism with prose that’s considered more “overblown” than magical. In her novel, her dramatic descriptions of the main characters—Archie and Samad, two World War II veterans who become unlikely friends in London’s sometimes fraught cultural landscape—feel dreamlike and uniquely Zadie.
Like Water for Chocolate
In case you couldn’t tell, we have a soft spot for magical realism about food, and Like Water for Chocolate is the icing on the cake. As Tita lusts over the love of her life—who happens to be married to Tita’s older sister—she throws her devastation and emotions into the food she makes, which, as the book progresses, she realizes has an effect on whoever eats it. The hearty book is even complete with recipes. Buen provecho!
Summer reading: the perfect time to choose unexpected, delicious books to dive into all season long. So what better read to escape into on a sizzling-hot summer night than a plot full of magical realism? Most widely popularized by Gabriel Garcia Márquez in the ’60s, magical realism is a literary tool used by writers to imply magic that’s accepted as rational in the “real” world of a novel. From dream-traveling to a girl morphing into glass, these books will remind you there really can be a bit of magic all around us—we just need to open our eyes (and turn the page) to see it.
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