The Real Inventor of Magical Realism

From the NYRB's review of the current Garcia Marquez bio:

García Márquez popularized the style, but he was not its inventor, and One Hundred Years of Solitude would not have been possible without his hav- ing studied, at Carlos Fuentes's urging, the works of an older generation of Spanish-American writers who were magic realism's pioneers, among them Alejo Carpentier and Miguel Asturias.[3] It is remarkable that so little influence on his writing is credited to his Latin American precursors. This is partly because García Márquez himself has been reluctant to give them their due. At times he seems to enjoy casting himself as the magician who created a new Spanish-American literature out of thin air.

The footnote embedded in the paragraph informs us that

[3]The Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier coined the term— lo real maravilloso—in 1949 to describe what he thought of as his variation on French Surrealism. Miguel Angel Asturias's phantasmagoric novel about a dictator, El Señor Presidente (1946), was the prototype for García Márquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch. In 1967, Asturias, a Guatemalan, became the first Latin American novelist to be awarded the Nobel Prize. García Márquez was awarded the prize in 1982.

Read Alejo Carpentier.


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By lo real maravilloso Carpentier did not mean exactly what the English “translation” magical realism conveys, but rather something more like heightened realism; there is nothing in Carpentier’s work that is very much like GGM’s 100 Years).

Michael Greenberg is incorrect. G.G. Marquez has credited Alejo Carpentier.

Xensen,
I don’t think Greenberg is claiming that Carpentier wrote a book like 100 Years, otherwise Garcia Marquez would simply be derivative. But his fiction clearly does presage a lot of what Garcia Marquez and other Boom novelists were engaged in.

Cesar,
Do you have a citation for that?

I thought surely Juan Rulfo’s novel, Pedro Paramo, would make an appearance in this discussion.

Scott,
I will check my library. It’s got to be in either the Paris Review book of Latin American interviews, or in Vivir para Contarla, or in Donoso’s book about the Boom.

Molly is correct that Rulfo is an important influence on Fuentes and to some degree all the boom writers. I think Carpentier’s influence is significantly stronger on Fuentes than on GGM. Asturias is certainly another important predecessor, although also a bit of an outlier in some respects. Cortazar is another influence who might be mentioned (BTW, I have translated books by several of these). My main point was just that the English term magical realism has come to be used in a very different way from the way Alejo used realismo magico, and this sometimes leads English-language readers astray.

Xensen,
I agree with your differentiation of magical realism and realismo magico, and it’s a good point.
Certainly Rulfo would be another influence, although I don’t quite see how Cortazar would be an influence, since he’s generally acknowledged as one of the major Boom writers and a contemporary of Garcia Marquez and Fuentes. I suppose you’re talking in terms of cross-pollination, as the Boom writers evolved throughout their careers?

Cortazar is nearly a generation older than Garcia M. and Fuentes.

I recall reading Wilder’s Bridge at San Luis Rey, published in 1927 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Never expecting the feel of this book, I wondered about magical realism, and where the influence came for this book, since my experience with it has been via Garcia Marques who wrote much later. Has anyone made that connection?

There are so many precedents: Borges, Bioy Casares, Kafka (translated by Borges), Rulfo, Horacio Quiroga, Carpentier, Mário de Andrade, Lugones’ “Strange Forces…” There was just something in the air in the 1920s and 1930s from which magical realism evolved.

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