Julio Cortazar was born in Belgium during the German occupation of Brussels in 1914. As his name implies, however, Cortazar’s cultural and ethnic heritage places him squarely within the legacy of Latin literature rather than European writers. The realistic stories that populate the short fiction of writers from the British Isles to Russia is not the world that the inhabitants of Cortazar’s short stories call home. Cortazar’s short story population inhabits the same universe where you will find very old men with wings.
The short stories of Julio Cortazar belong to that Latin American stranglehold on the genre of fiction known as Magical Realism. Weird things occur in the seemingly normal circumstances such as a tiger having the free run of an ancestral home while people go about their daily business with bulletins warning them which part of the house to avoid. Other stories have normalcy invaded by the sudden manifestation of spectral squatters who force the owners into exile or a man turning into walking fish. Perhaps critic Terry Peavler drew the distinction of Cortazar’s various modes of expression within the genre of Magical Realism with his subdivision of the author’s work into four distinct categories: the Mysteriouus, the Fantastic, the Realistic and the Psychological
That latter category is the one into which Cortazar’s most famous short story fits. Originally titled “The Devil’s Drool” it is today usually found under the title by which it gained fame through its 1966 adaptation into one of the signature films of the British New Wave: “Blow-Up.” While that story is somewhat less bizarre in its introduction of the magical into the real world, it would be a mistake to categorize the other fictions as an examples of Surrealism despite the admittedly surreal experience that often accompanies the reading. What separates Cortazar’s deep and abiding dreamlike weirdness from lapsing into the world of official Surrealism is that his plots are tightly constructed and despite the fact that fantasy intrudes, everyone treats the intrusion as perfectly normal including, ultimately, the reader.