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Magical Realism Is the Escape You Need Right Now

In these books, life goes on … but with a twist.By Jessica Dukes

Imagine if department stores sold invisibility cloaks or if bees formed a political party and ran for office, while the rest of the world continued as usual. These “what if” details are what makes magical realism both a fun read and a thought exercise on the limits of human experience. As a rule, fantastical or supernatural elements are presented as absolutely normal, and the humans in the story accept it and react accordingly.  (Think of Mr. Samsa in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, who wakes up one morning to discover that he has transformed into a huge insect, and must now go about his day.) This is why we love the magical realism titles below — they invite us to engage with situations we’ll never get to see in real life.

Other People’s Pets by R.L. Maizes

Being an animal empath has its advantages. It certainly makes veterinary school a lot easier. Unfortunately, LaLa Fine has human issues to deal with — namely, her mother who abandoned her and her professional-burglar father. For years, LaLa and her dad made quite a team; she soothed alarmed house pets while her dad looted the place. Now her dad has finally been arrested and LaLa must return to a life of crime to bail him out. This time, though, she’s determined to help the animals in the homes she’s pillaging.

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South of the Buttonwood Tree by Heather Webber 

Blue Bishop’s family has a bad reputation, so when a baby is left under the town Buttonwood tree with the instructions to “give the baby to Blue,” the gossip erupts. The mystical tree has spoken. Blue accepts responsibility. Unfortunately, a more established family in this small, southern town has other plans for the infant: Sarah Grace Landreneau Fulton has secrets of her own, and the Buttonwood tree baby connects her to Blue in ways that no one expects.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

This cornerstone of the magical realism genre is on every “Books to Read Before You Die” list out there, and for good reason. This is the saga of the Buendía family and the mythical town they founded, Macondo, in Colombia. But Macondo isn’t the isolated utopia they want it to be. Over the years, technology and politics creep in, and long-protected family secrets are exposed with otherworldly consequences.

The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Hiram Walker’s unique powers will save him from drowning, help him escape the Virginia plantation where he’s enslaved, and fight countless slave owners along the way. The one thing he can’t do is recall any details of this mother, sold away when he was young. Through all of his feats, the ultimate goal of reuniting his family is just a step away.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

All it takes is one average storm to hit New York City before citizens begin reporting unusual, newfound abilities. It seems that the squall broke a thin veil between our world and the world of the Dunia, the jinn who mothered the afflicted New Yorkers. For the next 1,001 nights, the children of Dunia will fight a war of good and evil around issues that look increasingly familiar to current events.

The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard

Johnny Ribkins and his family have superpowers, albeit obscure and mostly useless ones. They tried using their talents for good, but alas, a life of crime paid better. These days, Johnny is an old man on the run from the mafia that he recently double crossed, and it’s not clear if his superpower — flawless map-making — will save him this time. His last hope might be Eloise, his niece, who has a gift unlike any he’s never seen.

The Stone Raft by José Saramago

Over the course of one fateful day, the Iberian Peninsula simply cracks — right down through its core — and breaks free of the continent. As the new island heads out to sea, the world has to make sense of its existence, both geologically and politically. Meanwhile several people on the island who experienced strange events just as the peninsula set sail are drawn together to explore the island and learn its secrets.

The Immortals of Tehran by Ali Araghi

Ever since he was a child, Ahmad Torkash-Vand was well aware that his family lived under a curse. Despite witnessing its effects first-hand upon the death of his father, he pressed on, raising a family in some of Iran’s most turbulent years. As revolution becomes reality, Ahmad’s life as a poet and a politician collide. He and his extended family survive, but only by balancing a healthy respect for the political dangers around them with an even more solemn respect for the family curse.

The Past Is Never by Tiffany Quay Tyson

Bert and Willet want desperately to believe that their sister, Pansy, drowned in the cursed swimming hole in town. But she didn’t. She simply jumped in and disappeared. And then their father vanishes as well. Their painful mystery endures for years until the day a clue arrives, leading them to the Florida Everglades. In true Southern Gothic tradition, Bert and Willet have the truth about their dark past revealed to them through lore, and through other family members they encounter along the way.

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