Last year I couldn’t post recommendations because I realized too late it was #WITmonth plus my reading is incredibly Anglo-centric and only the past year or two have I taken steps to change that – and discovered amazing books in the process! I have been re-discovering favorites, finding out about authors I never heard of and generally got my enthusiasm for reading re-ignited, because translated fiction is a lot more creative than the US/UK books that usually are on my radar. If it got translated into English, it’s probably because that book is really special in some way, so as a rule I am often blown away by translated books. I also found out that I am quite inclined towards Latin American fiction (I’ve especially been reading a lot more Brazilian lit lately) probably due to the fact that they’re much closer to the culture I grew up with (I am Brazilian, by the way) and so they resonate with me a lot more. English-written books, even if by Latin American authors, are normally written with an American public in mind, through an Americanized way of storytelling, so I find that it’s much more insightful to read books written FOR the public I want to read about – as in, translated fiction.
The main problem I have when looking for translated works to add to my TBR is figuring out what kind of “vibes” they give, since my usual references (reviews by bloggers I know) are a lot more scarce. Which is why I decided to create this post (and more like these in the future), to help readers who loved certain books explore Latin American translated fiction.
If you liked Human Acts by Han Kang, try It Would be Night in Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo
Human Acts by Hang Kang is a difficult book to read, a short collection of stories of an uprising in South Korea in 1980 which resulted in violent, devastating consequences for many Koreans, told through the stories of several characters, it does not flinch away from the horrors of torture, death and brutal oppression. It Would be Night in Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo tells the story of Adelaida, living in contemporary Venezuela, which is going through awful times of political oppression, torture and people going “missing”. The author also does not flinch away from those things, although the writing style are quite different, both books are incredibly powerful and document the horrors of reality through the eyes of fictional characters.
If you liked A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Marquez, try The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
A rather obvious connection, as everyone seems to compare those two books, but in case you haven’t picked this up yet and you love the idea of a magical realistic epic, The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende is a fantastic book, full of plot twists and where fate plays an incredible and heartbreaking role. Where A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez focuses on the men as main characters, The House of Spirits puts the women and their experiences in the front. Both are incredible books, beautifully written and masterpieces in their own right.
If you liked The Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler, try The House in Smyrna by Tatiana Salem Levy
Stubborn Archivist and The House in Smyrna have very similar themes, of a Brazilian woman trying to figure out her identity as a half-British (in the first) and as part Turkish and born in Portugal (in the latter). The Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowley has a more “usual” contemporary feel to it, with a few flashbacks to the main character’s memories of going to Brazil for her vacations, of language and cultural influences, of being stereotyped in England for her heritage, of sexual abuse. The House in Smyrna by Tatiana Salem Levy, on the other hand, is a more experimental work, told in fragmented style the story of an unnamed woman trying to find her family in Turkey and understand her heritage, while also going through grief and remembering an abusive relationship. Their styles are different, but the themes are so similar and they evoked such emotional responses from me that I can’t help but put them both together as books that talk about identity and the struggles of finding your roots.
If you loved Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector, try The House in Smyrna by Tatiana Levy Salem
I know, another recommendation for Tatiana Salem Levy’s book. It’s just that good! It feels like cheating to recommend a translated Brazilian book based on another translated Brazilian book, but the writing style of The House in Smyrna really did put me in the mind of Clarice Lispector’s (and Virginia Woolf’s) writing. The stream-of-consciousness narration, with jumps in time which make the story incredibly interesting, fragmented and requiring the reader to engage actively with the story felt reminiscent to me of Near to the Wild Heart, although with a bit more of a cohesive storyline – so I would say that if you loved Clarice’s style but found it too difficult to follow, try Tatiana Salem Levy’s book! It feels easier to read while also interesting in terms of structure. I had a wonderful time reading this and wrote an in-depth analysis (in English) about it.
If you liked Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, read The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
I know, such a great idea to recommend another book by the same author if you already liked one by them. But I think readers of Lost Children Archive (a gorgeous story about documenting, immigration and family) might not have realized that Valeria Luiselli wrote The Story of My Teeth in Spanish. This tells the story of a man who collects teeth of famous people, set in the industrial suburbs of Mexico City.
If you liked Milkman by Anna Burns, try Hurricane Season by Sophie Hughes
Milkman has an intense, oppressive feel to it, telling the story of a girl who is noticed by a powerful man and suddenly becomes “interesting”, although all she wants is to be left alone. It’s an incredible work of literature, and I think Hurricane Season is a great book to follow with. It tells the story of the murder of the Witch in a small Mexican village, going through the points of view of different characters, all somehow linked to the murder, and its torrential, dark tone reminded me at times of how I felt reading Milkman. Both books touch on the gender violence in a way that keeps the reader not wanting to stop but also needing a break from the intensity. Both are incredible books!
If you liked The Vanishing Half, read The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet is a very popular book that tells the story of two sisters who decide to live their lives in very different ways: one lives her life as a Black woman and the other decides to pass for a white woman and cut ties with her family. In The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha, two sisters living in Rio de Janeiro in the 1940s decide to live their lives in very different ways: one marries and becomes the perfect wife and daughter, smothering her own brilliancy and creativity, and the other decides to run away in rebellion. Both books tell the stories of the sisters at the center of the story while also including narratives of people around them, creating a vivid portrait of the times they live in. While the books are otherwise quite different from each other (The Vanishing Half is very readable literary fiction that delves into the psychology of the characters, whereas Euridice Gusmao is a witty historical fiction that made me laugh), their premises are similar enough that I think if you liked the premise of The Vanishing Half, you will enjoy The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao.
If you liked 1984, read Tender is the Flesh
Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica is one of those instant classic books that keep you thinking long after you’ve finished them. It deals in gruesome detail with the de-humanization of people for industrialized farming and eventual consumption in a dystopian world where animals are no longer edible. It reminded me a lot of 1984 by George Orwell by how fascinating, horrifying and very well constructed the world in the book is, giving that same feeling of oppression and of being constantly observed and expected to engage in double-thinking to normalize horrible things that have become mundane in the reality of the book.