5 Must-Read Books by Latin American Women25 April, 2022
From magical realism and first-person fever dream-like novels to fascinating true crime non-fiction, these are five of the best books written by female Latin American Authors that have been published in recent months. Our recommendations include the new novel by International Booker shortlisted Mexican author Fernanda Melchor (translated By Sophie Hughes), a collection of short stories by the best-kept secret of Argentinian literature, and best friend of Jorge Luis Borges, Silvina Ocampo (translated by Daniel Balderston), and an absorbing retelling of iconic murders committed by women from Chilean writer and journalist Alia Trabucco Zeran (translated by Sophie Hughes).
Pola Oloixarac – Mona
Translated by Adam Morris
The novel takes place during the award ceremony of a prestigious literary award, for which Mona, a writer and academic based in California, is shortlisted. The event takes place in an unnamed village in Sweden over a few days where Mona comes across important authors from all over the world. As the event progresses, different writers deliver speeches whose topics veer from political commentary, technology and the profession of writing to how the creative process is affected by these and other factors.
As is tradition with Argentinian writers, particularly female writers, the real and the surreal overlap in a seamless and haunting way throughout the novel. Mona describes her encounters with the different personalities that form this—at times eccentric and at times expectedly traditional, but always eclectic— group of writers in this macabre Swedish village. In a daze that’s the consequence of alcohol, exhaustion, and drugs, she narrates what she sees and what she believes to see; what she feels and what she assumes she feels; she narrates memories and voids. On the surface, we intoxicatedly follow Mona’s trip (in more than one sense of the word) to learn about her experiences and career in a still very stale publishing world as a Latin American woman; we follow her to read about the injustices she faced and the opportunities she took, and of course to find out who wins the coveted prize. But it quickly transpires that Mona is gradually uncovering a past trauma that has been haunting her for some time. This is a brilliant, darkly funny, and completely unexpected novel that will delight and provoke many minds.
Fernanda Melchor – Paradais
Translated by Sophie Hughes
Paradais is a private neighbourhood in rural Mexico. The families who inhabit it drive SUVs and wear designer clothes. The novel follows two teenagers who haven’t found their place in the world – one of them lives in Paradais, the other one unwillingly works as the gardener and is pushed around by his unreasonable boss. Both teenagers are governed by a cocktail of hatred and fixations. Polo longs to leave the shithole he lives in, his pointless job, and the history of abuse in his family. While Franco can only think and talk about fucking Señora Moroño, one of his neighbours. An unlikely friendship is built over cheap alcohol and cigarette butts Polo either finds on the floor or buys with any spare change Franco can steal from his house. Together, they plot a dark and seemingly reasonable plan that could help them both obtain what they want.
This novel is an unflinching, unadorned look at poverty in a rural town of Mexico. In Melchor’s work, we find a world that’s as suffocating as it is unescapable. Throughout the novel, an alarming sense of smothering and hatred seeps through the pages in a poetic vomit of hateful language. It’s uncomfortable and it’s meant to be. The reader of Fernanda Melchor’s novels is supposed to feel some of the vast and plentiful pain and struggle of her characters. Sophie Hughes’ remarkable translation leaves no gaps, no breathing space, and mimics the rhythm and pace of the original flawlessly.
Ariana Harwicz – Tender
Translated by Annie McDermott & Carolina Orloff
Argentine writer Ariana Harwicz’s “trilogy of passion” comes to an end with Tender. All three novels (Feebleminded and Die, My Love are the other two) read with a frenzy that mirrors the narrator’s psyche in an addictive whirlwind of emotions in this impeccable telling of a troubled mind. Exploring and accepting a love that is imperfect yet gives way to truly relatable and dark emotions, Harwicz leaves no stone unturned when it comes to delving into the depths of our mind – both the real and the inexplicable, borderline surreal. Tender is a thought torrent that flows as if powered by the force of nature (also a main character in the trilogy).
For lovers of raw depictions of the female psyche in all its glory and darkness, as well as for fans of Elena Ferrante’s novellas that precede the Neapolitan Quartet, Tender is a natural pick.
Silvina Ocampo – The Impostor
Translated by Daniel Balderston
Silvina Ocampo was an Argentine writer who learned to thrive in the shadows: married to successful writer Adolfo Bioy Casares, best friend to Jorge Luis Borges, and younger sister of Victoria Ocampo—founder of Revista Sur and an early supporter of Jorge Luis Borges’ work—Silvina was never the protagonist of her own life. Perhaps this is one of the reasons behind her dark, mysterious, and haunting stories. The Impostor is a collection of short stories, some more famous than others, but all showing the fascinating intensity and deep darkness that dominated Silvina’s thinking hours.
Silvina Ocampo has been written about extensively, and her quirky personality never seized to amaze those who crossed paths with her, or in the present day, discovered her literature. After having been denied Argentina’s National Prize for Literature for being “too cruel”, it’s an absolute delight that her work is finding the readership and praise it deserves in a time when readers aren’t afraid to encounter and face the dark recesses of our minds and of society.
Another strong recommendation for those who read in Spanish is an incredibly rich biography of Silvina Ocampo, La Hermana Menor, written by Mariana Enriquez (The Dangers of Smoking in Bed and Things We Lost in the Fire), published by Anagrama Editorial.
Alia Trabucco Zeran – When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold
Translated by Sophie Hughes
This collection of essays is as arresting as it is unputdownable. Alia Trabucco Zeran selected four historically famous murders in Chile and analyses archives that have been far from forgotten but safely kept hidden from the public. Newspapers, criminal records, and statements are seen in a different light and reveal an unbelievably unjust and manipulative legal system governed by patriarchal officials who made choices that would stun today’s society.
Trabucco Zeran is an incredible researcher, thinker, and writer – and Sophie Hughes once again delivers an absorbing and flawless translation.
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