Classics of latin american fiction

The old city of Cartagemãng cầu, Colombia, on which the unnamed city in Love in the Time of Cholera is based. Photograph: Galit Seligmann/Alamy
The old city of Cartagena, Colombia, on which the unnamed city in Love in the Time of Cholera is based. Photograph: Galit Seligmann/Alamy
From the magic realism of the tropics khổng lồ the ‘gritty city’, Latin American literature is as rich & beguiling as the region itself


A sense of place often has a political edge in Latin American writing. Even magic realism – which takes fantastic liberties with the contours of cities & pueblos, jungles và rivers – is rooted in the living, breathing, dying và warring world of its characters. Over five sầu centuries, Hispanic authors have sầu loaned from & contested European ideas about their world, adapting imported traditions (from naturalism to crime fiction lớn stream-of-consciousness) and reworking them to bring khổng lồ life the vibrancy và vicissitudes of their youthful continent. The best novels are as alluring and stimulating as the most atmospheric places. To choose just 10 was only possible by imagining I was packing for a long road trip with limited baggage. I would take these, a comfortable hammochồng and a sturdy pillow.

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Doña Bárbara by Rómulo Gallegos

In literature, before the Latin American Boom of the 1960s & 70s there was a fashion for “regionalist” writing – books that treated their setting almost as a character. Venezuela’s steamy llanos (plains) are the backdrop lớn this 1929 novel about a strong woman in a world of rough ranchers & cowboys. Gallegos details every tremble of palm frond, every ripple of skulking alligator. The novel, somewhat forgotten but a classic, inspired many of the later magic realists. In 1948 its author became president in what is widely regarded as Venezuela’s first legitimate election. Some critics have sầu said the character of Doña Bárbara anticipated Eva Perón, while Hugo Chávez was wont lớn gọi George W Bush “Señor Peligro”, or “Mr Danger”, after the novel’s imperialist villain.

Tierra del Fuego by Sylvia Iparraguirre


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Carbajal valley, Tierra del Fuego. Photograph: Claudio Vidri/Getty ImagesThis accomplished historical novel, published in 1998, retells the story of the abduction of Jemmy Button và three other indigenous Fuegians by Captain Robert Fitzroy of HMS Beagle. The story moves from the large island at the southern tip of Argentina (and South America) to lớn England – where an attempt is made to civilise Button – and, finally, khổng lồ the Falkl& Islands. Iparraguirre’s portrait of London is convincingly Dickensian, but even more stirring are the “dark forests” & rocky shores of Tierra del Fuego, the lonely home of the “oldest winter in the world”.

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Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez


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The film version of Love sầu in the Time of Cholera. Photograph: Collection Christophel/AlamyThe Colombian đô thị of Cartagena, once a major Spanish garrison và key port of Spain’s Caribbean fleet, is now often swamped by cruise ship passengers và, in the modern parlance, is possibly Latin America’s most Instagrammable location. Love in the Time of Cholera, published in 1985, taps this romanticism in its story of a late-requited love sầu, its fictional location evoking Cartagena’s pastel-painted facades, as well as sections of the nearby city of Barranquilla on the Magdalena River. With its aromatic mangos, riverboats and loquacious parrot, it’s an archetypal South American tale, but it’s also highly inventive sầu, laced with delicious irony while riffing on multiple literary genres. 

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende


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Glenn Cthua kém và Meryl Streep in the film version of The House of the Spirits. Photograph: AlamyThe Chilean author’s extraordinary 1982 debut novel sweeps across three generations of the Valle-Truebố family in an unnamed country (blatantly Chile), và tempers its political sloganeering và supernatural flights with keen psychological observations. The story of class struggles is still relevant and Clara (who possesses paranormal powers), Blanca & Albố Truecha – the mother, daughter and granddaughter who preside over the titular house – are always engaging company, as they flit between the sprawl of Santiago và surrounding agricultural heartland.

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Dirty Havamãng cầu Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez


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Old Havamãng cầu. Photograph: Eloi Omella/Getty ImagesThis is a raw, rude, angry novel. Its main character, Pedro Juan, is a slightly nasty, very funny, self-confessed scumbag, who scratches a living flogging knock-off lobsters & fixing sewage pipes – probably without washing his hands between jobs. He has the sexual appetite of a penned-in young bull, và loves to divulge his colourful, rum-soaked seductions on the rooftop in the company of working women. The novel’s local colour is not the standard Cuban clibịt of vintage cars & salsa, but the hurricane-damaged reality of ruinous old mansions where the lifts stopped working decades ago and the staircases are deathtraps. The novel, first published in 1998, remains largely unavailable in Cuba, though it wasn’t formally banned. 

The Green House by Mario Vargas Llosa


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The Peruvian Amazon. Photograph: Anna Chaplygina/AlamyIn prose as tangled as a tropical rainforest, this intricate, ambitious 1966 novel by the Peruvian Nobel laureate tells a story of tinpot politicos, prostitutes, soldiers, cops, nuns, priests, river pilots, rubber merchants, gold prospectors and other outbaông xã characters – indigenous, mestizo & white – in a great arc of plots và subplots that liên kết the remote riverine đô thị of Iquitos with the coastal desert of north-west Peru. The green house of the title is the Amazon, as well as a brothel outside the đô thị of Piura. It’s not an easy read – Vargas Llosa was a “high modernist” in his early works – but if you let the long, impressionistic sentences wrap themselves around you, you’ll enjoy the journey.

The Purple Land by WH Hudson


Admired by Ernest Hemingway for its depictions of local scenery, this English-language novel, published in 1885 (the original title was The Purple Lvà that Englvà Lost), narrates a Victorian expat’s South American fantasy (Hudson was born in Argentina to US settlers of English & Irish origin). Richard Lamb is an Englishman who marries a young Argentinian woman without her father’s permission before crossing the river khổng lồ Uruguay, where he gets mixed up with some messy gauđến wars – & some messy local women. Full of action & drama, it captures the historical tumult of the Río de la Plata region during the mid-19th century and works as a kind of allegory of civilisation & barbarism. Hudson, a fine naturadanh mục và superb ornithologist, brings the landscape of estancias & rolling plains, rheas & deer, cattle & horses fully khổng lồ life. Jorge Luis Borges likened the book khổng lồ Homer’s Odyssey for its “elemental” power. 

Captains of the Sands by Jorge Amado


Pelourinho, the historic centre of Salvador. Photograph: Biblio Photography/AlamyThe six “Bahian Novels” of Brazil’s best-known writer phối a kind of social realism with elements of fable, but are không lấy phí of the sentimentalism and exoticism of his later works. This story, the final work in the cycle published in 1937, follows the pursuits of a gang of homeless orphans & urchins around the cobbled squares và slums of Salvador, a “đô thị black and old”. While rich in local colour – no one knows a thành phố like a street kid – the novel, as Colm Tóibín writes in the introduction to lớn the Penguin Classics edition, “is not written for tourists; it is written to lớn give substance khổng lồ shadows, to recreate the underlife of the city, lớn offer the dispossessed & reviled an inner life.” 

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz


I loved Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat – about the last days of Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo – but for a more upbeat and contemporary mental trip khổng lồ the country , it’s got to be one of Junot Díaz’s books. This 2012 collection of inter-linked stories works as a loose kind of novel, with the chief character, Yunior de las Casas, divulging his many infidelities from his late teens well into lớn adulthood, on trips “home” as well as in his adopted New Jersey. The joys and pains of the immigrant experience & Latino family life are skilfully wrought in punchy, streetwise prose; through all the stories, “the Island” exerts a powerful pull on body as well as mind. 

Thursday Night Widows by Claudia Piñeiro


Buenos Aires. Photograph: AlamyIf you want lớn visit the Buenos Aires of guidebook cliche, don’t read this. Published in 2005, the novel unfolds in the Cascade Heights Country Club, a gated estate outside the Argentinian capital where wealthy families live sầu lượt thích Europeans – while beyond the walls society is riven by crime và poverty, and the economy is tanking. When three men are murdered in mysterious circumstances, the suburban fantasy is punctured. The figurative sầu “widows” of the title are the wives whose husbands spover Thursday nights playing cards và drinking. A great thriller, Thursday Night Widows is also a dark parable about systemic violence & the criminality that underpins keeping up appearances. 


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