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Books & Authors, Diverse Voices

In Translation: Contemporary Latin American Authors

The English-speaking world's knowledge of Latin American literature is dominated by authors like Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, Roberto Bolaño, and Mario Vargas Llosa. These authors are widely-read and influential, successful in reaching audiences across multiple languages. However, frequently in the United States, the conversation about Latin American writing ends with these authors.

But there is a whole new generation of writers who are finding success in both Spanish and English. And if you enjoy a good story, you owe it to yourself to give these books a read. All of these titles were published originally in Spanish within the last ten years but have received recent English translations and feature authors from all over Latin America, including: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, and Mexico.

Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún
A haunting novel about an unusual family's breakdown -- set in South America during the time of Che Guevara and based on the life of Third Reich cinematographer Hans Ertl. Originally published in 2015 as "Los afectos."

Eartheater by Dolores Reyes
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. Surreal and haunting, spare yet complex, Eartheater is a dark, emotionally resonant tale told from a feminist perspective that brilliantly explores the stories of those left behind - the women enduring the pain of uncertainty, whose lives have been shaped by violence and loss. Originally published in 2019 as "Cometierra."

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
A multi-layered story told by two narrators: a 21st-century Emily Dickinson living in Mexico City who relates to the world vicariously through her children and a past that both overwhelms and liberates her, and a dying poet living in a run-down apartment in Philadelphia in the 1950s. While she tells the story of her past as a young editor in New York City desperately trying to convince a publisher to translate and publish the works of Gilberto Owen-an obscure Mexican poet who lived in Harlem during the 1920s and whose ghostly presence constantly haunts her in the subway-she also relates the slow but inevitable disintegration of her present family life. Originally published in 2011 as "Los ingrávidos."

Fracture by Andrés Neuman
In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, an aging survivor of the atom bomb confronts his memories. Originally published in 2018 as "Fractura."

How to Order the Universe: A Novel by María José Ferrada
This richly imaginative debut, detailing a girl and her father finding their way -and themselves - while they work as traveling hardware salesmen in Pinochet-era Chile, is a rare work of magic and originality. Originally published in 2017 as "Kramp."

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor
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 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. Originally published in 2017 as "Temporada de huracanes."

Like Flies From Afar by Enrique Ferrari
A loathsome and hilarious Argentinian oligarch, innocent of nothing except murder, finds an unidentifiable corpse handcuffed in the trunk of his car, and must find a way to keep out of jail. Originally published in 2011 as "Que de lejos parecen moscas."

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin
A visionary novel about the collision of technology and play, horror and humanity, from a master of the spine-tingling tale. They've infiltrated homes in Hong Kong, shops in Vancouver, the streets of Senegal, town squares of Oaxaca, schools in Tel Aviv, bedrooms in Ohio. They're following you. They're everywhere now. They're us. Originally published in 2018 (and in a somewhat different form) as "Kentukis."

Natural History by Carlos Fonseca
Just before the dawn of the new millennium, a curator at a New Jersey museum of natural history receives an unusual invitation from a celebrated fashion designer. She shares the curator's fascination with the hidden forms of the animal kingdom--with camouflage and subterfuge--and she proposes that they collaborate on an exhibition, the form of which itself remains largely obscure, even as they enter into a strange relationship marked by evasion and elision. Seven years later, after the death of the designer, the curator recovers the archive of their never-completed project. During a long night of insomnia, he finds within the archive a series of clues to the true story of the designer's family, a mind-bending puzzle that winds around the world and through time. Originally published in 2017 as "Museo animal."

Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos
A novel about the sometimes comic dangers of growing up in Mexico in the '80s. Originally published in 2012 as "Si viviéramos en un lugar normal."

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
Yuri Herrera does not simply write about the border between Mexico and the United States and those who cross it. He explores the crossings and translations people make in their minds and language as they move from one country to another, especially when there's no going back. Traversing this lonely territory is Makina, a young woman who knows only too well how to survive in a violent, macho world. Leaving behind her life in Mexico to search for her brother, she is smuggled into the US carrying a pair of secret messages--one from her mother and one from the Mexican underworld. Originally published in 2011 as "Señales que precederán al fin del mundo."

Space Invaders: A Novel by Nona Fernández
"Space Invaders" is the story of a group of childhood friends who, in adulthood, are preoccupied by uneasy memories and visions of their classmate Estrella González Jepsen. They recall regimented school assemblies, nationalistic class performances, and a trip to the beach. Soon it becomes clear that Estrella's father was a ranking government officer implicated in the violent crimes of the Pinochet regime, and the question of what became of her after she left school haunts her erstwhile friends. Growing up, these friends were old enough to sense the danger and tension that surrounded them, but were powerless in the face of it. They could control only the stories they told one another and the 'ghostly green bullets' they fired in the video game they played obsessively. Originally published in 2013 as "Space Invaders."

Tender Is the Flesh: A Novel by Agustina María Bazterrica
The electrifying, award-winning, internationally bestselling novel about a dystopian world in which animals have been wiped out, humans are being harvested for food, and society has been divided into those who eat and those who are eaten. Originally published in 2017 as "Cadáver Exquisito."

The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala
The story of an enormous cathedral constructed in a marginal, majority-black neighborhood in Cienfuegos, Cuba, told by a chorus of narrators whose sometimes conflicting, overlapping accounts knit together to form a portrait of the neighborhood and the family of outsiders whose arrival in Cienfuegos sparks a series of dramatic events. Originally published in 2012 as "La catedral de los negros."

The Mutations by Jorge Comensal
A modern-day Flaubert takes us on a comic tour through a deeply neurotic Mexico City by way of the life of a successful lawyer struck with a rare cancer of the tongue. Originally published in 2016 as "Las mutaciones."

The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
In the city of Bogotá, Antonio Yammara reads an article about a hippo that had escaped from a derelict zoo once owned by legendary Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The article transports Antonio back to when the war between Escobar's Medellín cartel and government forces played out violently in Colombia's streets and in the skies above. Back then, Antonio witnessed a friend's murder, an event that haunts him still. As he investigates, he discovers the many ways in which his own life and his friend's family have been shaped by his country's recent violent past. His journey leads him all the way back to the 1960s and a world on the brink of change: a time before narco-trafficking trapped a whole generation in a living nightmare. Originally published in 2011 as "El ruido de las cosas al caer."

The Twilight Zone: A Novel by Nona Fernández
It's 1984 in Chile, in the middle of the Pinochet dictatorship. A member of the secret police walks into the office of a dissident magazine and finds a reporter, who records his testimony. The narrator of Nona Fernández's mesmerizing and terrifying novel "The Twilight Zone" is a child when she first sees this man's face on the magazine's cover with the words "I Tortured People." His complicity in the worst crimes of the regime and his commitment to speaking about them haunt the narrator into her adulthood and career as a writer and documentarian. Like a secret service agent from the future, through extraordinary feats of the imagination, Fernández follows the man who tortured people to places that archives can't reach, into the sinister twilight zone of history where morning routines, a game of chess, Yuri Gagarin, and the eponymous TV show of the novel's title coexist with the brutal yet commonplace machinations of the regime. Originally published in 2016 as "La dimensión desconocida."

 

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