For many years Latin American writers complained of living under the shadow of their predecessors: the heavyweights of magical realism like Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa or Carlos Fuentes. And Latin American authors are too often absent from suggested reading lists, despite the demographic shift taking place in America.
“They [Latin American writers] have in common a formal audacity, they are very confident in their style and in what they are doing,” Valerie Miles, founder of the Spanish edition of Granta Magazine, told Quartz about this generation of authors. “The ideas about politics are not so obvious in their writing as they were in the writers of the boom: politics becomes something more intimate that comes out from the daily life with the partner, children… not from the state.”
We have have put together a list of Latin American authors, a new generation freed from stylistic ties to the past that you should include in your summer-reading list. We have highlighted books that may not be necessarily the most recent, but those that are translated, edited or easier to find in English. No matter what the must-reads table at your bookstore says: there is life beyond Roberto Bolaño and Junot Díaz.
1. Yuri Herrera (Mexico): His delusional dystopian stories include nonexistent epidemics that unearth violence between families and the government’s most fearsome and Orwellian side. Signs Preceding the End of the World (first edited in 2009 and then again in 2015) is a breathtaking novel that narrates the mission of Makina, a young girl sent by her mother to rescue her brother, whose track was lost in the US. In her way to the border, she faces all kinds of dangers and must challenge the hostile macho-driven environment. Makina’s character encapsulates the Mexican immigrant’s Odyssey toward the north, as Herrera explores the symbolic and psychological dimension that every transition carries. The Transmigration of Bodies, his most recent novel, will be published in English in 2016.
2. Patricio Pron (Argentina): The shadows of the Argentine dictatorship follow this author in the partially autobiographical novel My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain (2013). The writer comes back home to Argentina to say goodbye to his dying father. There, he finds a folder full of documents that unveils his father’s obsession with a man who’s disappeared. From there, he has to face the secrets and the pain of his family, marked by a recent past of political resistance against a brutal military regime. Pron was included by Granta Magazine in its 2010 list of the 22 best of young Spanish-Language novelists.
3. Daniel Alarcón (Peru): Though he moved from Lima to Alabama when he was 3-years-old, this Peruvian-American author’s voice remains is wholly Latin American. He has appeared both in the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” list as an American author and the “Bogotá 39” as a Peruvian. His novel Lost City Radio (2007), tells the story of Norma, a host of a popular radio program in a nameless South American country suffering the aftermath of the war. Norma tries to keep alive the memory of those who have disappeared, including her missing husband. At Night We Walk in Circles (2013) follows the struggles of Nelson, an actor who tries to put together the production of a controversial political theater play in another after war unknown country. Alarcón is also the founder and main anchor of the successful podcast Radio Ambulante, which tells endearing tales about Latin America (some episodes are subtitled in English).
4. Guadalupe Nettel (Mexico): Born in 1973 in Mexico City, this author has won awards for her novels and her short stories. In Natural Histories (2014), Nettel composes a mosaic of unforgettable characters: there’s the pregnant woman who spends her days observing how two fishes fight, the bourgeois family whose apartment is taken over by cockroaches or the couple of musicians who share a genital infection. Each tale explores the intersection between animal and human behavior and how our biological instincts influence our the relationships. The Body Where I was Born (2015) is an autobiographical novel in which the narrator recalls her childhood and an eye anomaly from the couch of a psychoanalyst.
5. Andres Neuman (Argentina): Probably the most established author on this list, along with Herrera, is Neuman, who wrote his debut novel, Bariloche, at the age of 22. The traveller of the century (2011), translated into 10 languages, is his most popular work. The novel narrates the story of Hans, a 19th-century traveller who stops to spend the night in Wandernburgo, a mysterious city between Saxony and Prussia. The city’s whimsical and shifting cartography and all kinds of unexpected events impede him from leaving. Talking to ourselves (2014), a novel narrated by the voices of a the father, a mother and a son, and The things we don’t do (2014), a compilation of short fiction stories, have also been translated into English.
6. Alejandro Zambra (Chile). This novelist and poet is considered by many to be the most brilliant Chilean writer since Bolaño. The addictive brevity of his work has received wonderful reviews in the New Yorker. Bonsai (2008), his debut, tells the story of a young literature student who decides to lock himself in a room to watch how a tiny tree grows. In The Private Lives of Trees (2010), Zambra narrates a single night in which a literature professor waits for her partner to return home while reading stories about trees to his stepdaughter. Ways of Going Home (2013) begins with an earthquake as seen from the eyes of a child growing up in a suburb during Pinochet’s dictatorship. If you want have a glimpse a Zambra, you can read Camilo, a short fiction story published in the New Yorker and The Most Chilean Man, a story published in Vice and included in his most recent compilation of short stories, My documents (2015).
7. Valeria Luiselli (Mexico): One of the youngest and most talented figures of Mexican literature, Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd (2013), a tale about the Spanish-speaking literary diaspora in New York, won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” award. If you prefer non-fiction person, check out her collection of essays Sidewalks (2014), which was a finalist PEN literary awards. Born in Mexico in 1983 and raised in South Africa, Luiselli currently lives in New York City, where she has taught creative writing at Columbia University. Her forthcoming novel The Story of My Teeth, a tale of how a man tries to replace his repulsive teeth, will be published this fall.
8. Rodrigo Hasbún (Bolivia): Despite having lived in Ithaca, New York, where he works in his doctorate in Latin American literature at University of Cornell, his books are not published in English yet. That has not impede us of including this extremly talented Bolivian writer, who is was selected by both Granta’s and in“Bogotá 39” lists. You only need to be a little patient: Pushkin Press has confirmed to Quartz that it will publish one of his works next summer. It could be Los días más felices (The happiest days), an anthology of short stories about a group of teenagers who, in the words of Hasbún, “grow in each page;” Los afectos (The affections), a story about a German family exiled in Bolivia after the war that tries to find the Inca mythical lost city of Paitití or El lugar del cuerpo (The body’s place), a tale of sexual abuse and incest.
9. Samanta Schweblin (Argentina): This Argentine author, who lives in Berlin, has been largely awarded for her work, especially in short fiction stories. Birds in the Mouth (2013) is her second compilation, titled after a tale about a 13-year-old girl who likes to eat live birds and a worried divorced father. It is available in English as an e-book published by PEN America’s Recommended Reading Series, which said about her: “she has a gift for sketching comfortable worlds and then disrupting them with images of dark, startling power.” Schweblin was also included in Granta’s list.
This list has been crafted with guidance of Álvaro Llorca (Libros del KO editorial), Manuel Guedán (Demipage editorial), Francisco Llorca (Libros del Asteroide editorial), Santiago Tobón, David M. Copé (Sexto Piso editorial), Valerie Miles (Granta Magazine), Laura Gastaldi and Carlos Muñoz.