Reading Latin America

If you haven’t yet had the chance to behold Latin America’s literary vistas, you’re in for a treat—albeit a selection of supernatural, beguiling, and downright dark treats. Here are some of our favourite novels, novellas and short stories from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, the Caribbean, Chile and beyond.

Our Share of Night, by Mariana Enriquez
translated by Megan McDowell

It might be 700 pages long, it might be deliriously, psychedelically gruesome, but it is also one of the most deeply involving novels you’re likely to read. The sheer length and extremity of the material only serve to highlight what a work of intense craft and construction it really is. Gaspar is a special boy, born into a family bound by a generations-long occult obsession, one that his father has tried to protect him from across a period of decades. Intergenerational drama, shocking outbursts of nightmarish violence, trippy Jodorowskian visuals, an ingenious weave through modern Argentinean history: it’s got everything you could possibly want from a book with a gigantic claw on the cover.

Chilean Poet, by Alejandro Zambra
translated by Megan McDowell

Having happily devoured most of his exquisite backlist (the word “Zambra-naut” has been bandied around), I can say with certainty that Chilean Poet is Alejandro Zambra at the top of his game. Starting as a coming-of-age story for the aspiring (and quite bad) poet, Gonzalo, it ventures into more comings-of-age as the novel progresses: Gonzalo has a coming-of-dad when he reunites with his high school girlfriend and becomes a sort of step-dad to her son, Vicente, who himself has his own boy-to-(failed)poet-to-man arc.

Sweeping in scale yet closely observed in Zambra’s trademark ironic-yet-profound style, this is the perfect balance of literary virtuosity and juicy narrative fiction. Up there in our all-time favourites.

The Hour of the Star, by Clarice Lispector
translated by Benjamin Moser

There’s truly nothing better than a delightfully unreliable and unpleasant narrator, à la Otessa Moshfegh. But this time, it’s metafictional! Our narrator is the tortured and philosophical Rodrigo, who also claims to be the author of this very novella (and yet not at all responsible for the fate of its characters, just so you know. They’re not real anyway, so could you stop asking? There’s nothing he can do about it!)

Hurricane Season, by Fernanda Melchor
translated by Sophie Hughes

Uncompromising, bewitching, troubling and strangely beautiful, we were bowled over by Mexican writer Fernanda Melchor’s first novel to be translated into English. A twisted murder mystery that reveals the inner workings of village life in disturbing, psychedelic and unnerving ways.

This is Not Miami, by Fernanda Melchor
translated by Sophie Hughes

Ok we’re cheating a bit doing Fernanda twice, but you’ll just have to forgive us. Anyone who’s already read Fernanda Melchor’s fiction will know that the Mexican writer does not hold back in dealing with the murkier side of urban living. This collection of short and explosive stories is based in fact but relayed variously as reportage, investigative journalism and almost novelistic accounts of foul deeds in the city of Veracruz, where Melchor has found endless and fruitful inspiration. Inter-gang relations, tragic crimes borne of societal decay, and an incredible central story that begins in a haunted house and quickly becomes a terrifying curbside exorcism – these stories do not flinch, and so they’re perhaps not for everyone. But if you have the mettle for the details then you’ll find the manner in which they’re conveyed absolutely captivating. 

When Women Kill, by Alia Trabucco Zeran
translated by Sophie Hughes

Female murderers are irresistably fascinating, and this Chilean curio deals with the central theme of its title in a brilliantly creative way, turning the tropes of ‘true crime’ into something rather more profound than merely glamorising the four women it profiles. Detailing their shocking crimes and the repercussions with commentary on the research process itself, Zeran’s methods are exhaustive but eminently readable. A delightful twist on the usual killer commentary!

Sevastopol, by Emilio Fraia
translated by Zoe Perry

Three brief, beguiling stories from contemporary Brazil, taking inspiration from Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Sketches. Fraia renders his characters in a seamless, almost cinematic prose, taking us on a deep dive into their most candid moments of self-reflection.

The Twilight Zone, by Nona Fernandez
translated by Natasha Wimmer

It’s 1984, in Chile in the middle of the Pinochet dictatorship. The novel concerns, or rather is concerned with, a member of the secret police who walks into the office of dissident reporters and insists on giving his testimony. ‘I tortured people’, he says, and proceeds to describe the multiple horrors he was involved and complicit in. The narrator was a young child when this article was released, and remains haunted by it for the rest of her life. Here, she imagines the man’s present and past, based on the facts she knows, and reckons with the ways his own history interacts with and intersects with hers. It’s about the politics of history, whose stories get told and what gets remembered, about resistance and survival and friendship. And obviously, it’s absolutely brilliant.

Tentacle, by Rita Indiana
translated by Achy Obejas

A queer, punk, post-apocalyptic novel from the Carribean, featuring time-travel, mystical sea anemones, gender-swapping, art theory and a prophecy to save the world. Unbelievably, this runs under 200 pages.

Elena Knows, by Claudia Pineiro
translated by Frances Riddle

An agonizingly good novella set over the course of a single day. After Rita is found hanged in the local church, Elena refuses to believe her daughter died of suicide. Hampered by the ebbs and flows of her Parkinson’s disease, Elena embarks on a torturous journey to the other side of Buenos Aires looking for answers. For fans of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and Death in Her Hands. “

Ramifications, by Daniel Saldana Paris
translated by Christina MacSweeney

A washed-up, depressed and unemployed writer obsessively relives and rewrites the details of his early childhood: his mother’s disappearance to join the Zapatistas, his own tortured and obsessive internal world, and a cross-country coach journey to the other side of the country in search of answers. Daniel Saldana Paris writes with an impressive attention to detail, creating a near perfect portrayal of a child’s interior life.

The Adventures of China Iron, by Gabriela Cabezon Camara
translated by Iona Macintyre & Fiona Macintosh

This is a book that will transport you to the dusty plains of the Pampas in 1872, evoking the excitement of wind-in-your-hair journeys, the joy of discovery and the freedom of travel. It’s a journey of unlikely friendships, rich cultural discovery, sexual awakening and British customs in the wild and endless Pampas (Liz seems to be able to produce un-ending tea, whisky, umbrellas and other luxury items from the depths of the wagon). You’ll be swept up by the sense of freedom and you will punch the air in celebration of China Iron’s joyful and liberating journey.

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