“It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay. It was an intricate stew of truths and mirages that convulsed the ghost of José Arcadio Buendía with impatience and made him wander all through the house even in broad daylight.”
-One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Magical realism or magic realism – a phrase that brings to my mind a selection of hallowed authors of various backgrounds, cultures, and nationalities, all united by this unique style that has resulted in works of literature so stunning and captivating that I feel confident in saying that the works of these writers will be read well into the distant future. Formally, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms defines magical realism as “a kind of modern fiction in which fabulous and fantastical events are included in a narrative that otherwise maintains the ‘reliable’ tone of objective realistic report.”
So, what does this mean to the reader? Narrative nirvana. Quite simply, the writing literally comes to life through the ability of these authors to craft tales filled with such mystical metaphor, bewitching characters, and labyrinthine plots, whose courses weave in, out, around, and through individuals, both dead and living, societies, and entire civilizations, that the boundary between what is and what is not possible becomes blurred and the reader simply comes to accept the story that is unfolding without question, as though navigating a river in a boat with no compass or oar, giving oneself over completely to the story – an incredible experience to be sure, the ultimate reading experience.
Although this genre came to be associated primarily with authors from South America, Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Columbia being the most famous and well-known, magical realism is not limited by geography – authors such as Salman Rushdie of India/Pakistan and Guenter Grass of Germany have also dazzled the reader with their superb novels, novels that, in all reality, hearken back to those times before the printed word, when storytelling and oral history dominated societies as the primary means to convey history, whether familial, tribal, or otherwise, and not precise history, not at all – historical narrative sprinkled with the sort of magic and myth that makes these stories endure through the ages.
“I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time. No that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more…On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instance of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world.”
-Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
The following journal articles, available through library databases, provide in-depth backgrounds to magical realism:
Corso, P. (2007). Does your fiction need to be stretched?: Five authors describe the magic of magical realism in expressing emotional truths. Writer, 120(10), 19-23. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
De La Campa, R. (1999). Magical realism and world literature: a genre for the times? Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispanicos, 23(2), 205-219. Retrieved from JSTOR database.
Ireland, K. R. (1990). Doing very dangerous things: Die Blechtrommel and Midnight’s Children. Comparative Literature, 42(4), 335-361. Retrieved from JSTOR database.
Deserted villages of rural Mexico, where images and memories of the past linger like unquiet ghosts, haunted the imaginations of two artists--writer Juan Rulfo and photographer Josephine Sacabo. In one such village of the mind, Comala, Rulfo set his classic novel Pedro Páramo, a dream-like tale that intertwines a man's quest to find his lost father and reclaim his patrimony with the father's obsessive love for a woman who will not be possessed--Susana San Juan. Recognizing that "Rulfo was describing a world I already knew" and feeling "a very personal response, particularly to Susana San Juan and her dilemma," Josephine Sacabo used Rulfo's novel as the starting point for a series of evocative photographs she calls "The Unreachable World of Susana San Juan: Homage to Juan Rulfo." This volume brings together Rulfo's novel and Sacabo's photographs to offer a dual artistic vision of the same unforgettable story. Margaret Sayers Peden's superb translation renders the novel as poetic and mysterious in English as it is in Spanish. Josephine Sacabo's photographs tell, in her words, "the story of a woman forced to take refuge in madness as a means of protecting her inner world from the ravages of the forces around her: a cruel and tyrannical patriarchy, a church that offers no redemption, the senseless violence of revolution, death itself."