Between the Lines Book Club: Magical Realism

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between the Lines Book Club!  This month, we are discussing Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel, Love in the Time of Cholera.  You can leave a comment below, or come join us for our in person book club on April 25, at 10:30AM.  We meet at Arden Dimick Library at 891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95864.  Coffee and light snack provided.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is famous for his use of magical realism.  He described the style in these words: “It was based on the way my grandmother used to tell her stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness.”

The term “magical realism” is a nebulous one.  At it’s core, it describes a style in which magical things occur without comment or explanation.  Often these things serve as metaphor.  A matter-of-fact tone is key, as stated by

One important aspect of any magical realist text is that the author recounts seemingly incredible events without sounding the least bit surprised, impressed, or spooked. It’s essential that the author present these supernatural aspects of the story in a matter-of-fact way, like Gabo does here – otherwise it wouldn’t be magical realism. It would be a ghost story.

The online magazine Margin, which is devoted to modern magical realism, asks contributors to consider these questions when deciding whether or not a story is one that uses magical realism:

“Is there an event in my story that cannot be explained by universal laws or logic?”

“Will my reader witness a collision of disparate realms in my story?”

“Does my fictional world clearly resemble my own real world? Does it share the same historical and/or cultural realities?”

“Have I allowed certain contradictions and ambiguities to exist in my story?”

“Is there a metamorphosis in my story? Is it treated as something mundane?”

“Do I use imagery, symbols, and/or metaphor to drive the narrative?”

“If the story is in first person, is my narrator a charmed or extra-ordinary storyteller?”

“Does the structure of my story reflect its deeper meaning?”

“Do I employ folklore, mythology and/or ancient systems of belief in my story?”

“Is the realism in my story heightened, even exaggerated or supercharged?”

“Might my story have a subversive message?”

“Do I have elements of both the unreal and reality interwoven into my story? Is the weave seamless?”

“Does my story involve otherwise voiceless characters, abandoned places or rejected ideas? Is my story told from the point of view of The Other?”

“Do I achieve a sense of enchantment without using fantastical devices and creatures — i.e. crystal balls, dragons, magic spells, elves — in favor of realistic objects and characters?” (TIP: YOUR STORY WILL GET PAST THE FIRST READING IF YOU MEET THIS GOAL.)

“Does my story illustrate an alternative truth?”

Although magical realism is associated with Latin American authors, it’s by no means limited to that part of the world.  Some notable examples of works that can be considered magical realism (other than the work of Garcia Marquez) are Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Equivel, White Teeth, by Zadie Smith, Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie, and A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond.

Margins magazine has an amazing links page with recommendation of articles and books on magical realism as well as interviews with authors.  You can find it at

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