I took a lot of world lit classes in undergrad. American lit is home to me. I read through that canon by high school. I love American culture and all things Americana. I also think American literature is so enduring and dominates so many reading lists because for so long we had the 1st amendment. In so many cultures writing and artistic expression in general had to please a governing body whether it was royalty, religious dictatorship, or a communist regime, in America we could write whatever we wanted.
However over the years I’ve also become quite fond of Russian lit and Latin American lit. Beyond taking a class on each in undergrad I have done extensive amounts of self-study in these genres as well. And then I’ve done some literary traveling to other parts of the world as well such as The Middle East, India, The Caribbean, Ireland, France, and Britain.
There is so much to choose from in Latin American literature. From Borges who is said to have invented the philosophical short story to the poetry of Octavio Paz, to the sweeping generational novels of Isabelle Allende, to all things Marquez. This is where magical realism blossomed. In no particular order; some of my favorites…
A Universal History of Infamy Jorge Borges
“In his writing, Borges always combined high seriousness with a wicked sense of fun. Here he reveals his delight in re-creating (or making up) colorful stories from the Orient, the Islamic world, and the Wild West, as well as his horrified fascination with knife fights, political and personal betrayal, and bloodthirsty revenge. Spark-ling with the sheer exuberant pleasure of story-telling, this collection marked the emergence of an utterly distinctive literary voice.”
The Alchemist Paulo Coehlo
“Paulo Coelho’s enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.”
The House of Spirits Isabel Allende
“In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies.
Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future.
The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate.”
The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
“Juan Gabriel Vásquez has been hailed not only as one of South America’s greatest literary stars, but also as one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation. In this gorgeously wrought, award-winning novel, Vásquez confronts the history of his home country, Colombia.
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.”
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“One of the 20th century’s enduring works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement of a Nobel Prize winning career.
The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.
Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility — the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth — these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel Garcia Marquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.
Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves the political, personal, and spiritual to bring a new consciousness to storytelling. Translated into dozens of languages, this stunning work is no less than an accounting of the history of the human race.”
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
“New Year’s Eve, 1975: Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, founders of the visceral realist movement in poetry, leave Mexico City in a borrowed white Impala. Their quest: to track down the obscure, vanished poet Cesárea Tinajero. A violent showdown in the Sonora desert turns search to flight; twenty years later Belano and Lima are still on the run.
The explosive first long work by “the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time” (Ilan Stavans, Los Angeles Times), The Savage Detectives follows Belano and Lima through the eyes of the people whose paths they cross in Central America, Europe, Israel, and West Africa. This chorus includes the muses of visceral realism, the beautiful Font sisters; their father, an architect interned in a Mexico City asylum; a sensitive young follower of Octavio Paz; a foul-mouthed American graduate student; a French girl with a taste for the Marquis de Sade; the great-granddaughter of Leon Trotsky; a Chilean stowaway with a mystical gift for numbers; the anorexic heiress to a Mexican underwear empire; an Argentinian photojournalist in Angola; and assorted hangers-on, detractors, critics, lovers, employers, vagabonds, real-life literary figures, and random acquaintances.
A polymathic descendant of Borges and Pynchon, Roberto Bolaño traces the hidden connection between literature and violence in a world where national boundaries are fluid and death lurks in the shadow of the avant-garde. The Savage Detectives is a dazzling original, the first great Latin American novel of the twenty-first century.”
Delirium by Laura Restrepo
“Internationally acclaimed for the virtuosity and power of her fiction, Laura Restrepo has created in Delirium a passionate, lyrical, devastating tale of eros and insanity.
Aguilar, an unemployed literature professor who has resorted to selling dog food for a living, returns home from a short trip to discover that his wife, Agustina, has gone mad. He doesn’t know what has happened during his absence, and in his search for answers, he gradually unearths profound and shadowy secrets about her past.
On one level, Delirium reads like a detective story, as the reader pieces together information to discover the roots of Agustina’s madness. But it is also a remarkably nuanced novel whose currents run much deeper, delving into the minds of four characters: Aguilar, a husband passionately in love with his wife and determined to rescue her from insanity: Agustina, a beautiful woman from an upper-class Colombian family who is caught in the throes of madness; Midas, a drug-trafficker and money-launderer, who is Agustina’s former lover; and Nicolás, Agustina’s grandfather. Through the mixing of these distinct voices, Laura Restrepo creates a searing portrait of a society battered by war and corruption as well as an intimate look at the daily lives of people struggling to stay sane in an unstable country.”
The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector
“The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector’s consummate final novel, may well be her masterpiece. Narrated by the cosmopolitan Rodrigo S.M., this brief, strange, and haunting tale is the story of Macabéa, one of life’s unfortunates. Living in the slums of Rio and eking out a poor living as a typist, Macabéa loves movies, Coca-Cola, and her rat of a boyfriend; she would like to be like Marylin Monroe, but she is ugly, underfed, sickly, and unloved. Rodrigo recoils from her wretchedness, and yet he cannot avoid realization that for all her outward misery, Macabéa is inwardly free. She doesn’t seem to know how unhappy she should be. Lispector employs her pathetic heroine against her urbane, empty narrator–edge of despair to edge of despair–and, working them like a pair of scissors, she cuts away the reader’s preconceived notions about poverty, identity, love, and the art of fiction. In her last book she takes readers close to the true mystery of life and leaves us deep in Lispector territory indeed.”