Massimo Bontempelli (Italy)
Considered the father of magical realism, the Italy-born author has left tracks for authors from all over the world in the magical realism genre. He is famous for L’amante Fedele (The Faithful Lover), a short-story collection that won him the 1953 Strega Prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary award. His stories are written with clarity and realism, yet, the magical elements emerge in a slow, deliberate manner, as if they were always meant to be a part of reality. His writing style doesn’t fair as much on the poetic side as it does in a direct, easy-to-read way. If you’re into Franz Kafka and you know your way around Italian culture, Bontempelli will surely deliver you a good read.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Columbia)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is seen as the godfather of magical realism. His popular works, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, has earned him multiple awards, including the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. Marquez’s works follows the theme of solitary and family life in a fictional village called Macondo. Similar to Bontempelli, Marquez is easy to digest, but his writing style is heavy on the poetic side.
Isabel Allende (Chile)
Author of The House of Spirits (La casa de los espíritus, 1982) and City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias, 2002), Isabel Allende entered the writing world with an activist’s pen, cutting through criticism and becoming a popular magical realist author comparable (but definitely different) from Marquez. As letters to her family (The House of Spirits was created by a letter to her dying grandfather, and Paula was a letter to her daughter), Allende possesses both vivid story-telling and realistic backdrops of families. If you like Marquez, Allende should definitely be a favorite as well.
Ben Okri (Nigeria)
Although his works deals greatly with post colonialism, The Famished Road author has been a favorite among magical realism fans for years, even claiming the 1991 Booker Prize. Okri, a Nigerian novelist and poet, has written numerous books that uses spirits in a realistic setting. Though his works are comparable to magical realistic greats like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Okri does not place himself in the same genre. Still, his work is appreciated by magical realism readers as he continues to write stories of his childhood and homeland.
Haruki Murakami (Japan)
Probably one of the most famous contemporary writers in magical realism, Haruki Murakami has set the bar high for writers nowadays. Though his books are easy to read, they are laced with complexities and concepts that slowly seep into the reader’s mind. Many of his books, including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, and 1Q84, have met great success around the world, and in his homeland, Japan, his books are consistently sold out before they hit the stands. Although I’d recommend many readers to Murakami first for magical realism, his perspective comes from that of a displaced Japanese person, and thus, many of his works reference Japanese culture.
Just a personal note
All of these writers are in some way or form associated with social and/or political change. Bontempelli was an active Fascist; Marquez was a journalist for El Espectador, and ended his time there with an expose on illegal smuggling; Allende escaped her hometown to Venezuela because of a CIA-backed military coup; Ben Okri consistently writes about post-colonialism, criticizing the government to the point he’s been added to death lists; and Murakami spoke out about Israel’s bombing of Gaza when receiving the Jerusalem Prize in 2009. What does this mean? It means that even when you’re writing fiction, understanding political and social issues helps your work.