genre magical realism

A General Theory of Oblivion

Winner of the 2017 Dublin International Literary Award, winner of the English Pen Award, shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2016, & shortlisted for the 3% Best Translated Book Award

“The story challenges what we imagine to be the clearly drawn lines between 'hero' and 'villain' and forces a reconsideration of history and our fictions. It does what the best of literature ought to do: keep us glued to our seats, unable to break away.“ - Words Without Borders

“On the eve of Angolan independence, Ludo bricks herself into her apartment, where she will remain for the next thirty years. She lives off vegetables and pigeons, burns her furniture and books to stay alive and keeps herself busy by writing her story on the walls of her home.

As the country goes through various political upheavals from colony to socialist republic to civil war to peace and capitalism, the world outside seeps into Ludo's life through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of someone peeing on a balcony, or a man fleeing his pursuers. A General Theory of Oblivion is a perfectly crafted, wild patchwork of a novel, playing on a love of storytelling and fable.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Leslie Tchaikovsky for the suggestion.)

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The Book of Chameleons

Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2007

"A subtle beguiling story of shifting identities." - Kirkus

“Félix Ventura trades in an unusual commodity; he is a dealer in memories, clandestinely selling new pasts to people whose futures are secure and who lack only a good lineage to complete their lives. In this completely original murder mystery, where people are not who they seem and the briefest of connections leads to the forging of entirely new histories, a bookish albino, a beautiful woman, a mysterious foreigner, and a witty talking lizard come together to discover the truth of their lives. Set in Angola, Agualusa's tale darts from tormented past to dream-filled present with a lightness that belies the savage history of a country in which many have something to forget—and to hide. 

A brilliant American debut by one of the most lauded writers in the Portuguese-speaking world, this is a beautifully written and always surprising tale of race, truth, and the transformative power of creativity.”

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Transparent City

A Vanity Fair “Hot Type” book, A Globe and Mail best book of 2018, a Lit Hub favorite book of the year, a World Literature Today notable translation, & winner of the José Saramago Prize

“Darkly pretty...peppered with poetry...These disparate stories are woven into a beautiful narrative that touches on government corruption, the privatization of water, the dangers of extracting oil for wealth, and the bastardization of religion for profit.. The novel reads like a love song to a tortured, desperately messed-up city that is undergoing remarkable transformations." - Publishers Weekly

“In a crumbling apartment block in the Angolan city of Luanda, families work, laugh, scheme, and get by. In the middle of it all is the melancholic Odonato, nostalgic for the country of his youth and searching for his lost son. As his hope drains away and as the city outside his doors changes beyond all recognition, Odonato’s flesh becomes transparent and his body increasingly weightless. A captivating blend of magical realism, scathing political satire, tender comedy, and literary experimentation, Transparent City offers a gripping and joyful portrait of urban Africa quite unlike any before yet published in English, and places Ondjaki, indisputably, among the continent’s most accomplished writers.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Carol Weldon for the suggestion.)

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Augustown

“11 April 1982: a smell is coming down John Golding Road right alongside the boy-child, something attached to him, like a spirit but not quite. Ma Taffy is growing worried. She knows that something is going to happen. Something terrible is going to pour out into the world. But if she can hold it off for just a little bit longer, she will. So she asks a question that surprises herself even as she asks it, ‘Kaia, I ever tell you bout the flying preacherman?’

Set in the backlands of Jamaica,  Augustown is a magical and haunting novel of one woman’s struggle to rise above the brutal vicissitudes of history, race, class, collective memory, violence, and myth.

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Like Water for Chocolate

"Earthy, magical, and utterly charming, this tale of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico blends poignant romance and bittersweet wit. 

This classic love story takes place on the De la Garza ranch, as the tyrannical owner, Mama Elena, chops onions at the kitchen table in her final days of pregnancy. While still in her mother's womb, her daughter to be weeps so violently she causes an early labor, and little Tita slips out amid the spices and fixings for noodle soup. This early encounter with food soon becomes a way of life, and Tita grows up to be a master chef, using cooking to express herself and sharing recipes with readers along the way."

(A special thank you to book club member, Aisha Esbhani for the suggestion.)

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The Implacable Order of Things (aka Blank Gaze)

Known as Blank Gaze in some countries. Winner of the José Saramago Literary Award

"In an unnamed Portuguese village, against a backdrop of severe rural poverty, two generations of men and women struggle with love, violence, death, and—perhaps worst of all—the inescapability of fate.
 
A pair of twins conjoined at the pinky, a 120-year-old wise man, a shepherd turned cuckold by a giant, and even the Devil himself make up the unforgettably oddball cast of The Implacable Order of Things. As these lost souls come together and drift apart, José Luís Peixoto masterfully reveals the absurd, heartbreaking, and ultimately bewitching aspects of human nature in a literary performance that heralds the arrival of an astoundingly gifted and poetic writer."

(A special thank you to book club member, Yurena Bookish for the suggestion.)

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The Piano Cemetery

"The Lázaro family are carpenters who would rather be piano-makers. In the dusty back room of their carpentry shop in Lisbon is the 'piano cemetery', filled with broken-down pianos that provide the spare parts needed for repairing and rebuilding instruments all over the city. It is a mysterious and magical place, a place of solace, a dreaming place and, above all, a trysting place for lovers. Peixoto weaves the tragic true story of the marathon-runner, Francisco Lázaro, into a rich narrative of love, betrayal, domestic happiness and dashed hopes."

A mix of literature, magical realism, & romance, the Piano Cemetery is loosely—very loosely—based upon the life of the first Olympic contestant to die during an event. With dreamlike sequences & narrations by both the Olympian & his dead father,  the author showcases a different kind of contemporary fiction.

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Love in the Time of Cholera

"'A love story of astonishing power.' 
- Newsweek 

Nobel prize winner Gabriel García Márquez tells a tale of an unrequited love. 

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career, he whiles away the years in 622 affairs—yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again."

(A special thank you to book club member, Ester Elbert for the suggestion.)

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The Head of the Saint

"A 2017 LA Times Book Prize Finalist

A quirky story of love, mischief, and forgiveness from Brazil’s foremost award-winning author for young readers, in her U.S. debut. 
 
Fourteen-year-old Samuel is newly orphaned and homeless in a small town in Brazil. He lives in a giant, hollow, concrete head of St. Anthony, the lingering evidence of the village’s inept and failed attempt to build a monolith over a decade ago. He didn’t know what it was when he crawled into it, seeking shelter during a storm, but since coming there, he hears beautiful singing, echoing like magic in the head twice a day. So he stays.

Miraculously, he can also hear the private prayers and longings of the villagers. Feeling mischievous, Samuel begins to help answer these prayers, hoping that if he does, their noise will quiet down and he can listen to the beautiful singing in peace. Ironically, his miracles gain him so many fans that he starts to worry he will never fulfill his own true longing and find the source of the singing. 
 
Filled with beautiful turns of phrase and wonderfully quirky characters, The Head of the Saint is a riotous story of faith and magic that won’t soon leave your thoughts."

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Ficciones

"The seventeen pieces in Ficciones demonstrate the gargantuan powers of imagination, intelligence, and style of one of the greatest writers of this or any other century. Borges sends us on a journey into a compelling, bizarre, and profoundly resonant realm; we enter the fearful sphere of Pascal’s abyss, the surreal and literal labyrinth of books, and the iconography of eternal return. More playful and approachable than the fictions themselves are Borges’s Prologues, brief elucidations that offer the uninitiated a passageway into the whirlwind of Borges’s genius and mirror the precision and potency of his intellect and inventiveness, his piercing irony, his skepticism, and his obsession with fantasy. To enter the worlds in Ficciones is to enter the mind of Jorge Luis Borges, wherein lies Heaven, Hell, and everything in between."

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