One of our favorite ways to ease the soul is to cozy up to a good book, and it makes it extra special when the stories are written by a Latino author. The importance of having an abundance of Latin American literature is that these stories capture our culture and history, and when they are bound in a book, they can never be forgotten. So, in honor of National Book Lovers Day this Sunday, we’re tipping our hats to our favorite reads.
"Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel García Marquez
It’s so hard to pick just one of Gabriel García Márquez’s books for this list! But we can’t deny one of the greatest love stories ever. The Nobel Prize-winning, Colombian author released this novel, in Spanish of course, in 1985, and tells the love story between Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. The book's tropical setting adds to the passionate relationship between these two, which blossoms decades after they meet.
"The Stories of Eva Luna" by Isabel Allende
In 1987, we were introduced to Eva Luna, a feminist, journalist, and storyteller (very much like the author herself) who’s an orphan in Latin America. It’s through her inventive storytelling that Eva is able to cope with the turmoil of her country following World War II. Three years later, the Chilean author Isabel Allende released The Stories of Eva Luna, which is a collection of stories that were crucial to Eva’s development. The 23 short stories deal with intense subject matters, which are extremely relevant to Latin American history, including sexuality, domestic violence, and political oppression.
"The Savage Detectives" by Roberto Bolaño
This novel, which takes place in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, Sonora, is about two poets on the search for a Chilean poet in the 70s. The story is written in first person, which makes the read even more engaging. It’s one of those haunting adventure tales that makes you feel like you are truly on the trip along with them. The book was translated in English in 2007, sadly, a couple of years after the death of Chilean author Roberto Bolaño.
"Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel
Reading Like Water for Chocolate is like diving into a pool of the most decadent indulgences you could ever desire: delicious food and love (each chapter begins with a Mexican recipe!). The debut novel by Mexican writer Laura Esquivel tells the heart-warming story of Tita whose only desire is to marry her one true love, Pedro, but the one thing stopping her is her mother. A must-read.
"El Aleph" by Jorge Luis Borges
Argentine short-story writer, essayist, and poet Jorge Luis Borges published this fantasy short story in 1945 with the theme of being in a place of infinite time. Borges, obsessed with the concept of space and time, applied these themes to his stories. El Aleph deals with issues of identity and immortality, and the 1952 edition includes four additional stories, for which he provided a brief postscript.
"Dreaming in Cuban" by Cristina Garcia
The lives of three generations of the Puente family is examined in this debut novel by Cristina Garcia that explores the strain and aftermath of leaving Cuba, beginning a new life in the United States, and what happens to those left behind. Dreaming in Cuban was also a finalist for the National Book Award in 1992.
"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Díaz
When Junot Díaz published his first novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, in 2007, it’s as if the whole world stopped and asked: Who is this incredible Dominican-American writer from Jersey? The answer was simple: He’s a writer, whose work had previously appeared in The New Yorker, and was listed as one of the top 20 writers for the 21st century. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which is about a boy obsessed with comic books, fantasy novels, science, and love, went on to win several awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
"The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros
One of the most beautiful aspects to this novel by Mexican-American writer Sandra Cisneros is that the entire book reads as if it were a song. The rhythm of this coming-of-age story, about a young Latina living in Chicago in a mixed culture of both Chicanos and Puerto Ricans, is told in vignettes, which adds to the richness of the flow. The novel gained critical acclaim and was on the New York Times Bestseller list.
When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
This is the first installment in author Esmeralda Santiago's autobiographical trilogy. The story begins with Esmeralda’s life in Puerto Rico and her family's journey to the United States. Her assimilation in the U.S. is what marks this book as a great read for any Latina. She writes of the racism she experiences in New York, being on welfare, and the complexities within her own family, which includes a sibling she had no idea existed.
"Lost City Radio" by Daniel Alarcón
Imagine a world without any TV, or even worse, no Internet. Scary, right? Peruvian-American author Daniel Alarcón had something similar in mind with his debut novel released in 2007. This story takes place somewhere in South America and the only form of communication is through radio. The people live in a totalitarian government and are completely displaced. While Norma, the protagonist and DJ of the popular radio show, is in search of her husband, she meets a young boy from a remote jungle.
"Los Cuentos de Mi Tia Panchita" by Carmen Lyra
This book of short story folktales was written by Carmen Lyra, a prominent Costa Rican writer that was depicted on the twenty thousand colones bill in 2010. She was a teacher and founder of Costa Rica's first Montessori pre-kindergarten and part of the communist party. Los Cuentos de mi Tia Panchita, published in the 1920s, was standard reading for children in schools, and still very much beloved by adults. These stories, told through rich poetic language and illustrations, depict the traditional life of the people of Central America. The narrative, told in first person, talks of her adoration of the character Tia Panchita and all the things Panchita taught her about her cultural foods, neighborhood, and customs.
"The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho
Santiago, a young and curious shepherd boy, has a recurring dream that a child tells him he will find a hidden treasure if he travels to the Egyptian pyramids. A fortune-teller urges Santiago to listen to these dreams and go to the Egyptian pyramids and find his treasure. And so begins the journey of Santiago in this book, by Brazilian-born author Paulo Coelho. First published in English in 1993, this book has sold 65 million copies worldwide.
"Lotería" by Mario Alberto Zambrano
Mexican-American author Mario Alberto Zambrano never intended to write a book. For most of his life he was a trained ballet dancer who toured the world, but while studying at New York University, he fell in love with writing fiction. It was there that the story of Luz was born. In Lotería, we learn that Luz has experienced something supertraumatic, but it's exactly what is a mystery to readers. Each chapter opens with a card from the Lotería game, and it’s how we learn more about Luz, and her dysfunctional, yet loving family. Each card gives the reader clues about what truly happened to her.
What are your must-reads from Latin America?