Off the Shelf: Magical realism explained

Magical realism is a style of fiction grounded in a realistic environment with supernatural elements woven throughout. If you like lyrical writing, unique settings, tales that span generations and themes of historical societal change, then this might be your new favorite kind of book!

“100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez is one of the most well-known examples in the rich tradition of magical realism, exploring the history of a small, fictitious town and the family who founded it. Alejo Carpentier, a Cuban writer, said that magical realism was natural for the Americas because indigenous communities did not always see a firm line between the supernatural and the natural.

Isabel Allende is one of the most famous authors continuing this tradition; start with her first novel, “House of the Spirits,” a saga taking place throughout the post-colonial upheavals of Chile. If you’d like something lighter and newer that continues the theme of generational family, try “The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina” by Zoraida Córdova.

A hallmark of magical realism is using the fantastical elements to critique society and the elite, by shining a spotlight on people living ordinary lives on the margins. A great example of this is “Tracks” by Louise Erdrich, set in North Dakota at a time when Native American tribes were struggling to keep what little remained of their lands. “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi also begins with two women and follows them through eight generations, illuminating slavery’s legacy on those who were taken from Africa and those who stayed.

Those looking for feel-good magical realism will enjoy author Sarah Addison Allen. Start with “Garden Spells,” first in a series about the Waverly sisters and their feisty apple tree, who seem able to affect the world around them in small but extraordinary ways.

“Chocolat” by Joann Harris (and the brilliant movie adaptation) is about a tiny town in France and the ripples caused by the arrival of a new chocolatier. It imparts a warm sense of community, and a craving for chocolate!

The author Ramona Ausubel wrote, “The world, to me, is very strange. It’s outlandishly beautiful, and at times, impossibly sad. We drive cars and can mail objects across the globe. We cook noodles, and we start wars, and some of us grow babies inside our bodies. We will all die, and none of us can know what that will be like until we get there … What is all of that, if not some kind of magic? Yet, it’s also very real. And that is how we can define the book genre magical realism: A reminder of both the enchantment and ominousness of the every day, nestled inside a delicious novel.”

For more …

The library offers something for everyone, including new or lesser-known genres.

For more magical realism books, visit, call 360-683-1161 or email to

The Sequim Library is at 630 N. Sequim Ave.

Liz Duval is Public Services Specialist for the North Olympic Library System.