Julio Cortazar's short story "Axoloti," from his collection Final deljuego (End of the Game, and Other Stories), has disturbed, perplexed, and delighted a growing number of devoted readers and critics since its publication in 1956. One of Cortazar's most famous stories, it is told by a man who has been transformed into an axoloti, a species of salamander, after spending many hours watching axolotls in an aquarium. As an axoloti, the man still sees the human he used to be and hopes the human will write a story about a man who becomes an axolotl. Many critics find the axoloti's final comment to be the pervading theme of Cortazar's short fiction—that through art one can become another and communicate on behalf of all creatures, so that none may feel the terror of isolation and imprisonment.
Cortazar's fiction unites fantastic and often bizarre plots with everyday events and characters. This method urges readers to look beyond the commonly held conviction of Western thought that life is guided by fact. Instead, Cortazar wants readers to understand that reality is in the eye of the beholder. Cortazar is one of the seminal figures of magic realism, a movement in Latin American literature that began in the 1950s. Cortazar's contemporaries, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes, also combine fantastic and ordinary situations and characters in an attempt to create new ways in which literature can represent life.