This year I put more effort into reading Latin-American books and it definitely showed – I found a bunch of new favorites! Here are my top 10. I’d like to remind my readers that I’m Brazilian, and therefore the list is quite Brazil-lit heavy. Also! A lot of these are recommendations from my friend Chelle, who has a TBR service where she picks books for you to read based on your personal taste and what you’d like to read more of. Without further ado, here were my 10 favorite Latin American reads:
10. Eartheater by Dolores Reyes, translated by Julia Sanches
I did not love, love this book but it did something new and interesting with its story, so I’m recommending it!
Set in an unnamed slum in contemporary Argentina, Earth-eater is the story of a young woman who finds herself drawn to eating the earth—a compulsion that gives her visions of broken and lost lives. With her first taste of dirt, she learns the horrifying truth of her mother’s death. Disturbed by what she witnesses, the woman keeps her visions to herself. But when Earth-eater begins an unlikely relationship with a withdrawn police officer, word of her ability begins to spread, and soon desperate members of her community beg for her help, anxious to uncover the truth about their own loved ones.
9. It Would be Night in Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo
This was an incredibly haunting read, shining a light on the reality of Venezuela in a story about grief and violence. It was really good! I read this in Portuguese, translated by Livia Deorsola.
In Caracas, Venezuela, Adelaida Falcon stands over an open grave. Alone, except for harried undertakers, she buries her mother–the only family Adelaida has ever known.
Numb with grief, Adelaida returns to the apartment they shared. Outside the window that she tapes shut every night—to prevent the tear gas raining down on protesters in the streets from seeping in. When looters masquerading as revolutionaries take over her apartment, Adelaida resists and is beaten up. It is the beginning of a fight for survival in a country that has disintegrated into violence and anarchy, where citizens are increasingly pitted against each other. But as fate would have it, Adelaida is given a gruesome choice that could secure her escape.
8. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
This was such an incredible read! I did not know anything about the Mirabal sisters before and after reading this I spent days reading articles about them, so interesting their story was!
Set during the waning days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in 1960, this extraordinary novel tells the story of the Mirabal sisters, three young wives and mothers who are assassinated after visiting their jailed husbands.
From the author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents comes this tale of courage and sisterhood set in the Dominican Republic during the rise of the Trujillo dictatorship. A skillful blend of fact and fiction, In the Time of the Butterflies is inspired by the true story of the three Mirabal sisters who, in 1960, were murdered for their part in an underground plot to overthrow the government. Alvarez breathes life into these historical figures–known as “las mariposas,” or “the butterflies,” in the underground–as she imagines their teenage years, their gradual involvement with the revolution, and their terror as their dissentience is uncovered.
7. O Vilarejo por Raphael Montes
This has no translation that I know of, but it’s an illustrated short story horror collection about a cursed village. The stories can be read independently and are awful on their own, but together they make for an even more chilling effect.
Em 1589, o padre e demonologista Peter Binsfeld fez a ligação de cada um dos pecados capitais a um demônio, supostamente responsável por invocar o mal nas pessoas. É a partir daí que Raphael Montes cria sete histórias situadas em um vilarejo isolado, apresentando a lenta degradação dos moradores do lugar, e pouco a pouco o próprio vilarejo vai sendo dizimado, maculado pela neve e pela fome.
As histórias podem ser lidas em qualquer ordem, sem prejuízo de sua compreensão, mas se relacionam de maneira complexa, de modo que ao término da leitura as narrativas convergem para uma única e surpreendente conclusão.
6. Quem Tem Medo do Feminismo Negro? por Djamila Ribeiro
Another one with no translation, but it’s a collection of essays by Djamila Ribeiro on racism in Brazil. She’s a wonderful, eloquent author and I highly recommend her!
Quem tem medo do feminismo negro? reúne um longo ensaio autobiográfico inédito e uma seleção de artigos publicados por Djamila Ribeiro no blog da revista CartaCapital, entre 2014 e 2017. No texto de abertura, a filósofa e militante recupera memórias de seus anos de infância e adolescência para discutir o que chama de “silenciamento”, processo de apagamento da personalidade por que passou e que é um dos muitos resultados perniciosos da discriminação. Foi apenas no final da adolescência, ao trabalhar na Casa de Cultura da Mulher Negra, que Djamila entrou em contato com autoras que a fizeram ter orgulho de suas raízes e não mais querer se manter invisível. Desde então, o diálogo com autoras como Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bell Hooks, Sueli Carneiro, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison e Conceição Evaristo é uma constante.
Muitos textos reagem a situações do cotidiano — o aumento da intolerância às religiões de matriz africana; os ataques a celebridades como Maju ou Serena Williams – a partir das quais Djamila destrincha conceitos como empoderamento feminino ou interseccionalidade. Ela também aborda temas como os limites da mobilização nas redes sociais, as políticas de cotas raciais e as origens do feminismo negro nos Estados Unidos e no Brasil, além de discutir a obra de autoras de referência para o feminismo, como Simone de Beauvoir.
5. The House in Smyrna by Tatiana Levy Salem
I read this in the original Portuguese, but there is a translation available by Alison Entrekin. This was an experimental book that really, really worked for me. The themes of grief, trauma and depression permeate this book and make it that much more emotional.
In Rio de Janeiro, a woman suffering from a mysterious illness, which is eroding her body and mind, decides to accept a challenge from her grandfather: to take the key to the house where he grew up — in the Turkish city of Smyrna — and open the door.
As she embarks on this pilgrimage, she begins to write of her progress. The writing soon becomes an exploration of her family’s legacy of displacement in Europe, told in several narrative strands. Sifting through family stories — her grandfather’s migration from Turkey to Brazil, her parents’ exile in Portugal under the Brazilian military dictatorship, her mother’s death, and her own love affair with a violent man — she traces her family’s history in a journey to make sense of the past and to understand her place in it.
With an epic sweep of time and place — traversing Brazil, Turkey, and Portugal — this is a profoundly moving portrait of a young woman finding her way back into life. Spare, heartfelt, and evocative, The House in Smyrna is an unforgettable story from one of the most accomplished and original new voices in Brazil.
4. A Falência por Júlia Lopes de Almeida
Júlia Lopes de Almeida is an author I only found out about this year! A shame, because she’s fantastic and this was one of the best classic literature books I’ve ever read, and probably my favorite Brazilian classic. There’s no translation yet but I hope there will be one soon!
Ícone do modernismo brasileiro, Júlia Lopes de Almeida consegue oferecer um notável panorama das repercussões do boom do café no final do século XIX na formação da nascente burguesia urbana, e também retratar, com impecável maestria, os meandros de uma sociedade machista e hipócrita, em que subsistem as relações escravocratas e aprofundam-se as desigualdades sociais.
Rio de Janeiro, 1891. Francisco Teodoro, um bem-sucedido e ambicioso comerciante de café, conhece Camila. Em busca de um casamento que traga estabilidade, ele não vê melhor opção que desposar tal jovem, bela e de boa e humilde família. Os filhos Mário, Rachel, Lia e Ruth crescem a olhos vistos, enquanto a empresa do pai continua a prosperar.
Nem só de flores, contudo, vivem os Teodoro. Francisco, cada vez mais ganancioso, vê outros comerciantes se arriscando no trato com o café e decide fazer o mesmo. Afinal, é preciso aumentar o patrimônio familiar que Mário insiste em dilapidar. Camila, alheia aos movimentos econômicos e cada vez mais absorta em sua relação com o médico Gervásio, nada opina. Em um revés do destino, a fortuna da família acaba. Francisco Teodoro se suicida e todos, mãe e filhos, precisam aprender a lidar com a nova situação social.
3. Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez
This is another horror short story collection! I loved, loved this, it was so creepy and atmospheric and whew, some of those stories horrified me. I read it in Portuguese (can’t find the translator!).
A woman returns to the rundown suburb of Buenos Aires her family once called home. From the safety of her window, she watches as a teenage prostitute raises her five-year-old son on the street. They sleep outside, surrounded by pimps and addicts, psychopaths and dealers, worshippers of the occult and corrupt police.
One day, the mother and the dirty kid are gone, and the dismembered body of a child is found in the neighbourhood. Is the murder part of a satanic ritual, or a gangland killing? Could it be the dirty kid, and if so, is his mother a victim too; or an accomplice; or his killer?
Thrilling and terrifying, Things We Lost in the Fire takes the reader into a world of Argentine Gothic: of sharp-toothed children; of women racked by desire; of demons who lurk beneath the river; of stolen skulls and secrets half-buried under Argentina’s terrible dictatorship; of men imprisoned in their marriages, whose only path out lies in the flames.
2. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende, translated by Magda Bogin
Another classic book that became a favorite! This was so intriguing, emotional and generally a well-rounded story with lots of family drama, magic and political commentary, I just loved it.
As a girl, Clara del Valle can read fortunes, make objects move as if they had lives of their own, and predict the future. Following the mysterious death of her sister, Rosa the Beautiful, Clara is mute for nine years. When she breaks her silence, it is to announce that she will be married soon to the stern and volatile landowner Esteban Trueba.
Set in an unnamed Latin American country over three generations, The House of the Spirits is a magnificent epic of a proud and passionate family, secret loves and violent revolution.
1. Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes
Okay, so this book is fantastic. It tells the story of the Witch and how she got murdered. This was incredibly dark but so deeply human, I adored this book.
The Witch is dead. And the discovery of her corpse—by a group of children playing near the irrigation canals—propels the whole village into an investigation of how and why this murder occurred. Rumors and suspicions spread. As the novel unfolds in a dazzling linguistic torrent, with each unreliable narrator lingering on new details, new acts of depravity or brutality, Melchor extracts some tiny shred of humanity from these characters that most would write off as utterly irredeemable, forming a lasting portrait of a damned Mexican village.