If you’ve read and enjoyed the works of Jorge Luis Borges – the Argentinian short-story writer, poet, essayist, and translator – then you might be looking for something in a similar vein to read next. Here, we run through six other authors whose work belays a Borgesian influence or shares similar stylistic elements, and who might be loosely termed magical realists.
1. Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel García Márquez frequently acknowledged the influence Borges had on his work and, according to James Wood: “As Garcia Marquez’s name became synonymous with the Latin American literary ‘boom,’ he and Borges were often confused.” Both Borges and García Márquez shared a stylistic preference for concision.
However, García Márquez was a deeply original writer who made the magical realist style pioneered by Borges distinctly his own. In his 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, he employs a picaresque or episodic structure to tell the multigenerational story of the Buendía family in the fictional town of Macondo. Within the colorful world he sketches, he infuses even the most mundane of events with magic (such as when Remedios the Beauty, evidently too beautiful for this world, ascends to heaven while folding a sheet) and deep emotional pathos (such as when the blood of a dead son trickles all the way to the feet of his bereft mother).
Arguably the author most closely associated with magical realism and a major talent within the Latin American Boom, García Márquez’s work should be on everyone’s reading list!
2. Isabel Allende
Get the latest articles delivered to your inboxSign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter
According to Isabel Allende herself, her “greatest influences have been all the great writers of the Latin American Boom in literature: [Gabriel] García Márquez, [Mario] Vargas Llosa, [Julio] Cortázar, [Jorge Luis] Borges, [Octavio] Paz, [Juan] Rulfo, [Jorge] Amado, etc.” (see Further Reading, Allende, ‘Interview’).
Yet Allende herself is an important figure within the Latin American Boom, becoming the first internationally renowned female magical realist author. In recognition of her achievements, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004 (ten years before then-President Barack Obama granted her the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom). In 2010, she was awarded the National Literature Prize in her native Chile.
Allende is perhaps best known for her 1982 debut novel, The House of Spirits, which was first published in Buenos Aires (where Borges himself was born and spent much of his life) after having been rejected by several other Spanish-language publishers. The House of Spirits was both a commercial and critical success, and it has since been translated into more than twenty languages.
Inspired by the news that her 100-year-old grandfather was dying, The House of Spirits follows three generations of a family, depicting their lives against the backdrop of political upheavals in post-colonial Chile. As well as bearing a historical witness to this turbulent time within Chile’s social and political history, Allende interweaves elements of magical realism, such as Clara del Valle (on whom the first part of the novel focuses), whose paranormal powers allow her to see into the future and move objects using only the power of her mind.
3. Mikhail Bulgakov
Mikhail Bulgakov was born in 1891 – just eight years before Borges – but he died in 1940 when Borges’ fame was on the rise with the publication of Ficciones and El Aleph. If, however, you enjoyed Borges’ work, you might also like that of Bulgakov, his contemporary, writing in Soviet Russia.
Though it remained unpublished at the time of his death, Bulgakov is today best known for his novel The Master and Margarita, an allegorical novel exploring the corruption and cognitive dissonance at the heart of Soviet society. The novel begins when the devil (Professor Woland) pays a visit to Moscow in the 1930s and joins in with a conversation between a poet and a critic (both of whom are members of the Soviet literary elite) on how best to deny the existence of Jesus Christ, as was in compliance with the Soviet Union’s official atheism. After systematically challenging and dismantling the ideology on which Soviet society was built, Woland leaves Moscow in disarray.
Bulgakov also wrote the novella The Heart of a Dog, in which he offers his highly satirical take on Bolshevism and the October Revolution. In 1924 Moscow, a stray (and recently scalded) dog follows a successful surgeon, Filipp Filippovich Preobrazhensky, back to his flat after Preobrazhensky takes pity on him and offers him a sausage. The surgeon, however, then uses the dog to perform a scientific first by transplanting the testicles and pituitary gland of a recently deceased man into the dog’s body. The result is a hybrid creature, both human and animal, and the surgeon’s life becomes a living hell.
4. Salman Rushdie
Speaking on the influence Borges had on his own writing, Salman Rushdie told the journalist and literary critic Gaby Wood that García Márquez and Borges were both “writers who open[ed] the door for” him, stating that he recalled “picking up the paperback of Ficciones [translated as Labyrinths], going home and reading it three times straight through.” The experience of reading Borges for the first time was, he said, “in the true sense of the word, mind-blowing” (see Further Reading, Gaby Wood).
And the influence Borges had on Rushdie can be directly seen in his characterization of the boy who cannot forget anything in Midnight’s Children, which, as Gaby Wood notes, is a nod to Borges’ own character Funes the Memorious from a short story of the same name (see Further Reading, Gaby Wood).
It was Midnight’s Children that launched Salman Rushdie into literary stardom, winning the 1981 Booker Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize of the same year. In 1993, it was awarded the “Booker of Bookers” and in 2008 was named the best all-time winner, making it the single most decorated Booker Prize-winning novel.
In it, Rushdie tells the story of Saleem Sinai, one of the eponymous midnight’s children, who was born at the precise moment when India officially gained independence from British colonial rule. Saleem, like all the other Indian children born within the same hour as their newly independent country, has magical powers. In his case, he is telepathic and has an enormous nose, which drips constantly but is extremely olfactorily sensitive. Saleem uses his telepathy to convene meetings with the other midnight’s children, whose lives play out against the backdrop of their country’s modern history, from independence and partition to the electoral defeat of Indira Gandhi.
5. Carlos Fuentes
Known by his first two names, Carlos Fuentes Macías was a Mexican novelist and essayist. Considered to be “one of the most admired writers in the Spanish-speaking world,” his works – including The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962), Aura (1962), and Terra Nostra (1975) – played a key role in the so-called Latin American Boom of the 1960s and 70s: a “Boom” that Borges’ international celebrity had helped catalyze.
Borges is one among many fellow Latin American authors whom Fuentes cited as influences on his writing, Alejo Carpentier, Juan Carlos Onetti, and Miguel Angel Asturias. Beyond Latin America, he was also influenced by European high modernists, including French writer Marcel Proust, Irish writer James Joyce, and British writer Virginia Woolf (whom Borges also admired and translated into Spanish). Building on these influences, Fuentes would go on to be one of Mexico’s foremost writers of all time.
Despite his admiration for Borges as a writer, Fuentes has not shied away from criticizing some of Borges’ political beliefs, however. Commenting after the discovery of a telegram from Borges expressing his support for President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz for the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, Fuentes stated that, though this was “unfortunate for the memory of Borges,” it was not uncharacteristic of him, as Borges also “congratulated Pinochet” around the same time.
“You can be a literary genius,” Fuentes observed, “and a political idiot.”
Fuentes, by contrast, was a man of strong ideological principles, criticizing Latin American leaders on either end of the political spectrum and arguing passionately for the value of human rights and social justice.
6. Franz Kafka
The German-speaking Czech author Franz Kafka was a major influence on Borges – and, indeed, on the wider magical realist movement. Borges’ artistic indebtedness to Kafka is outlined in his essay “Kafka and His Precursors,” and he also translated some of Kafka’s works into Spanish. Kafka’s influence is clearly discernible in such seminal short stories by Borges as “The Library of Babel” and “The Secret Miracle,” which explore the possibility of universal meaninglessness and the relationship between God and humanity.
One of Kafka’s better-known works is the 1915 novella Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung). Here, Gregor Samsa, an ordinary salesman, wakes to find that he has transformed into an enormous insect overnight. His boss and his family are all horrified by his new appearance and alternately treat him with contempt and cruelty. He is locked in his room and, as Gregor had previously been his family’s main financial provider, the other members of the Samsa family take on jobs and come to increasingly forget about him.
Borges was, in many ways, a deeply original writer. And it was for this reason (in part) that his work proved so influential. At the same time, however, he too was influenced by such writers as Kafka – whose Metamorphosis predates the coinage of the term magic realism by a decade – and his work is comparable with that of Bulgakov, his contemporary writing in Soviet Russia and having to keep his work hidden from the authorities. For any Borges fan, then, there is a world of literature to explore beyond Borges’ oeuvre.
Allende, Isabel, ‘Interview’,
Wood, Gaby, ‘Salman Rushdie has opened doors between real and imagined worlds’ (15th August 2022),