The best books to capture the magic of magical realism

Who am I?

I fell in love with Latin American literature when I was in the Peace Corps in the late 1960s in the highlands of Colombia. My husband and I were in a program of rural community development. The Colombian writer, Gabriel García Márquez, published his now-famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, while we were there (in 1967), and when I read it, I said, “This is the kind of fiction that I want to keep on reading and studying forever!” And so I have. I am on the faculty of the University of Houston, where I teach Latin American literature and history, including a course on Magical Realism. 


I wrote...

Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community

By Lois Parkinson Zamora (editor), Wendy B. Faris (editor),

Book cover of Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community

What is my book about?

Magical Realism is a kind of fiction that engages the usual devices of literary realism—characters, plot, setting—but with a difference. In Magical Realist fiction, the supernatural is an ordinary matter, an everyday occurrence, accepted and integrated into the rationality and materiality of literary realism. The essays in my book are by various authors who discuss novels from Latin America in ways that illuminate the cultural sources of the magic in the novels I suggest below. These novels are not just fantasies: Magical Realist novels have strong social and political content, and sometimes describe the collision of opposing cultures and belief systems. Magical Realism is a worldwide phenomenon, but below I suggest novels by Latin American writers so you can appreciate their shared cultural contexts and political situations. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Like Water for Chocolate

Lois Parkinson Zamora Why did I love this book?

This novel is a great way to start enjoying magical realism. It’s about a family—a hard-boiled mother and her three daughters who live on a ranch in northern Mexico during the Mexican Revolution.

The youngest daughter, named Tita, is told that it is an unalterable family tradition for the youngest daughter not to marry but to stay home and take care of her mother. Tita obeys but with very interesting (and magical) consequences.

Food is the source of much of the magic in this novel, and if you love cooking and eating, you’ll love this magic! And because the story is set during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917), revolutionary soldiers gallop through the ranch with magical and sometimes disastrous results.

I loved this novel because it combines politics and history, as well as romance and humor. 

By Laura Esquivel,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Like Water for Chocolate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE INTOXICATING INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER ABOUT LOVE, COOKING AND MAGIC. PERFECT FOR FANS OF JOANNE HARRIS AND ISABEL ALLENDE.

'This magical, mythical, moving story of love, sacrifice and summering sensuality is something I will savour for a long time' MAUREEN LIPMAN

Like Water For Chocolate tells the captivating story of the De la Garza family. As the youngest daughter, Tita is forbidden by Mexican tradition to marry. Instead, she pours all of her emotions into her delicious recipes, which she shares with readers along the way.When Tita falls in love with Pedro, he is seduced by the magical food she cooks.…


Book cover of The House of the Spirits

Lois Parkinson Zamora Why did I love this book?

The House of the Spirits tells the story of a family in an unnamed Latin American country over the course of fifty years, starting in the 1920s. We get to know four generations of Del Valle women, each of whom has a mystical side that allows her to commune with spirits and act upon the insights that these spirits provide.

There is also the patriarch of the family, Esteban Trueba, who is quite the opposite of the women in his family—a strongman whose exercise of economic and political power has terrible consequences.

The name of the country where the novel takes place isn’t mentioned, but we know that it is Chile because the plot moves inexorably toward 9/11/1973, the date of the military coup in Chile that led to thousands of “disappeared” or exiled citizens.

The personal and the political are well balanced in this novel because while we are deeply engaged in the lives of the characters, we also watch as a long-standing democracy crumbles and finally falls to a military dictatorship. Allende is herself Chilean and a relative of the President of Chile who was murdered during the military take-over in 1973.

This novel is her first, and it serves as a memoir of her family’s experiences, both political and personal, bitter and sweet.

By Isabel Allende,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The House of the Spirits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Spectacular...An absorbing and distinguished work...The House of the Spirits with its all-informing, generous, and humane sensibility, is a unique achievement, both personal witness and possible allegory of the past, present, and future of Latin America.” —The New York Times Book Review

Our Shared Shelf, Emma Watson Goodreads Book Club Pick November/December 2020!

The House of the Spirits, the unforgettable first novel that established Isabel Allende as one of the world’s most gifted storytellers, brings to life the triumphs and tragedies of three generations of the Trueba family. The patriarch Esteban is a volatile, proud man whose voracious pursuit of political…


Book cover of The Kingdom of This World

Lois Parkinson Zamora Why did I love this book?

The Kingdom of this World is written by a Cuban writer and pits two worldviews against each other—the Afro-Haitian and the French.

This short novel is set at the end of the eighteenth century in Haiti, and the French are trying to maintain control of their colonies in the Caribbean. We see these different world views from both points of view so that the same event can have disastrously different meanings.

We follow the Haitian slave, Ti Noel, who reports on “magical” happenings that stem from his Haitian belief in shape-shifting: men can take flight if necessary, or transform themselves into animals or insects, or otherwise do what the French consider “magic” and the Haitians consider normal. We see events from the French point of view of Pauline Bonaparte, sister of Napoleon and wife of a French general who was sent to Haiti to put down the slave revolt. 

As readers, we watch as these two cultures collide as things are thrown into chaos. This novel is a fascinating account of historical events that set in motion the difficulties that still face Haiti today. 

By Alejo Carpentier, Pablo Medina (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Kingdom of This World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kingdom of this World (57) by Carpentier, Alejo [Paperback (2006)]


Book cover of Pedro Páramo

Lois Parkinson Zamora Why did I love this book?

This short novel is by a Mexican writer and takes place underground. At first, we cannot tell who is living and who is dead, but we eventually accept the fact that the characters are ghosts. 

The ghosts come and go, remembering their past lives together. They remind each other of the events of the Mexican Revolution that they lived through, and they especially remember the strongman in the village. Pedro Páramo runs things with an iron hand, and he also pines for a woman who is beyond his control—the only thing he wants that he can’t have.

The voices in this novel are like a chorus of whispers breathing the picture of a poor village. I love the beauty and mystery of the writing. Many Mexicans consider this their greatest novel, and for all readers, it is a small masterpiece. 

By Juan Rulfo, Margaret Sayers Peden (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Pedro Páramo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner, Fred Whitehead Award for the Best Design of a Trade Book from Texas Institute of Letters Western Books Exhibition Selection, Rounce & Coffin Club, 2003 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 Paramo, 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…


Book cover of One Hundred Years of Solitude

Lois Parkinson Zamora Why did I love this book?

I was in the Peace Corps in Colombia when I read One Hundred Years of Solitude, and fell in love with this kind of fiction (which we now call magical realism).

It is set in a poor village where magical things happen, and no one gives it a second thought. There is also a political story that reflects historical events in Colombia and in other parts of Latin America.

The author won the Nobel Prize in 1982, and no writer can be more highly acclaimed than that. Oprah chose it for her book club (well, that’s pretty high acclaim, too), and I love it. 

By Gabriel García Márquez,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked One Hundred Years of Solitude as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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 Buendía 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.


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By Carol Moreira,

Book cover of Too Good

Carol Moreira Author Of Riptides

New book alert!

Who am I?

I’m fascinated by the relationship of humanity to nature. When I was young, we moved all the time – my dad was in the military and we moved to a new base every 18 months. All those military bases were located in the British countryside and, in the absence of other forms of continuity, nature became like a best friend. I still walk every day. Reconnecting with trees, grass, the sounds of birds, centres and energizes me. I get my best ideas when walking. But, of course, nature is also threatening – Covid and cancer are natural. I’m fascinated by that juxtaposition and always trying to reflect it in my work.  

Carol's book list on the beauty and threat of the natural world

What is my book about?

This is a steamy tale of vulnerability and betrayal. Struggling in her marriage, her new life in England, and her work in a hospice, Canadian-born Lindsey is drawn to her best friend's attractive husband, David.

Guilt about her fascination with David is complicated by her admiration for his wife, Grace, a cancer doctor at the hospice. But when Grace is killed in a terrorist attack, Lindsey is drawn to Grace's man, unheeding of the dangers.

Too Good

By Carol Moreira,

What is this book about?

Struggling in her marriage, her new life in England, and her work in a hospice, Canadian-born Lindsey is drawn to her best friend’s attractive husband David. The sight of his lean gardener’s body working in the hospice grounds fills her with longing and makes her forget the sadness in both the hospice and her marriage.
Guilt about her fascination with David is complicated by her friendship and admiration for his wife Grace, a cancer doctor at the hospice. But when Grace is killed in a terrorist attack, Lindsey is drawn into a passionate romance with Grace’s man unheeding of the…


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