- operation massacre, by rodolpho walsh. [amazon]
credited as the actual first non-fiction investigative novel (nine years before capote’s in cold blood), it’s a crude retelling of the kidnapping and execution of a group of peronistas during the argentinian military dictatorship of the ’50s.
- kamchatka, by marcelo figueras. [amazon]
there were many dictatorships in our story and many stories in our dictatorship. from the argentinian dictatorship that started in the year ‘76, this one is the story of a boy whose family goes into hiding to avoid ‘disappearing’.
- extracting the stone of madness, by alejandra pizarnik. [amazon]
i don’t think i can explain how vital pizarnik is to poetry. her poems explore mental illness, suicidal ideation, institutionalization; but also love, childhood and the everydays of writing. i’ve found, though, that teenage boys have a hard time empathizing with a mentally ill woman’s poetry. i still recommend it.
- red april, by santiago roncagliolo. [amazon]
moving to perú, this novel follows the civil war crimes that occur between a terrorist group and the very corrupt government
- the open veins of latin america, by eduardo galeano. [amazon]
not everyone likes galeano and not everyone agrees with galeano but everyone recognizes that he wrote about america’s history of oppression, poverty and colonization in a way that could finally reach everyone. this book is one of the most important reads on latin american history of this century.
- mario benedetti’s poems [amazon, a bilingual edition!] and short stories [amazon]
to be honest, i think mario’s most essential read is his novel, ‘thanks for the fire’, but it hasn’t been translated. his poems and prose are exceptionally good, though, and an excellent insight into south american life.
- by night in chile, by roberto bolaño.[amazon]
another historical novel, this testimony dwells into the dirty business between a corrupt church and a military state during pinochet’s dictatorship.
- the house of the spirits, by isabel allende. [amazon]
another chilean author. though i personally hate every single one of her other books, this one is a classic for a good reason. it’s truly fantastic, and it’s a very dark and intimate walk through the life of a high class family across three generations.
- alma guillermoprieto’s chronicles of latin america:
cuba’s revolution [x], life in río de janeiro [x], and collections of stories and chronicles from all across the continent, both historical [x] and contemporary [x]
- alfonsina storni’s poems. feminist poetry at the beginning of the twentieth century, shaped south american poetry in a lot of ways. you can find selections here and here.
- regarding roderer (or, if you want to also have a movie adaptation to make the reading more entertaining, the oxford murders), by guillermo martinez [amazon] [amazon]
to be completely honest with you, if i had the chance to meet him again, i’d punk martinez in the face. he’s pretentious and repetitive and the peak of the white dude author; but his prose is entertaining and enthralling and there is not a teenage boy in this world who won’t love him. i’ve read all of his books, and i have a very strong love/hate relationship with his work, but i can’t deny he’s an excellent mystery writer. regarding roderer has never stopped being a fascinating work, even after reading it a dozen times.
- my sweet orange tree, by josé mauro de vasconcelos [amazon]
i think i’ve read this book what? twenty times? twenty or a million, and i’ve laughed and cried with the same intensity every time. published in the 70s, this book is about the life of a poor boy growing up in río. sadly, the second part (let the sun heat) can’t be found in english, but this book alone is one of the most emblematic reads in latin american history.
- kiss of the spider-woman, by manuel puig [amazon]
another story about the dictatorship. two men, one guilty of socialist ideals and the other guilty of homosexual perversions, are incarcerated together. i’m not sure how apt for teenagers this book might be, because though, if not exactly explicit (it’s all dialogue, written like a screenplay), it’s not something most high schools would want teenage boys to read. our school was never scared of showing us the rough side of the dictatorship, so we all read a few rough things while still too young.
- the nine guardians, by rosarios castellanos [amazon]
set during the mexican revolution, this one shares with Kamchatka and my sweet orange tree the haunting honesty of stories of poverty and oppression told from the eyes and memories of children.
- of love and other demons, gabriel garcía márquez [amazon]
this one set during the 18th century, this novel is gorgeous, heartbreaking and an amazing story of love and religion. we read it at school, and it was without a doubt one of the best books i was assigned for lit class. another excellent book by garcía márquez is ‘story of a shipwrecked sailor’ [x].
- fictions, by Jorge luis borges [amazon]
because you really can’t talk about south american prose without benedetti and borges, fictions. this one anthology collects some of my favorite short stories, all of them magical and haunting and intriguing to no end.
two of what i consider must-reads of argentinian and latin american literature haven’t been translated to english: the conqueror, by federico andahazi (a story about an aztec man who finds europe way before the spanish find mexico) and the saga of the borderlands, by liliana bodoc (a fantastic retelling of the colonization). you can find a translation of the first book of the saga of the borderlands, but the second and third are impossible. there are also books specially oriented for teenagers (to say friend, which changed me for the better like few other books have) that are also impossible to find, but one day i’m gonna get rich and sit my ass to translate them all.