Preliminary info on a possible Latin American project

At the beginning of this year, one of the ideas I was mulling was a Latin American literature project. It promised to be even more superficial than the Russian one (which had not yet been conceived anyhow); I was thinking that the best I could really do was try for one book from each country. I kept some very incomplete notes on what I found—basically just a list of possibilities. I mostly don’t know why a given book is on this list anymore, but since people were curious I decided to post it anyway.

  • Argentina: Borges; also Oop Oloop by Juan Filloy
  • Brazil: Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
  • Chile: Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra; House of Mist by Maria Luisa Bombal; and of course 2666
  • Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (of whom I have only read Love in the Time of Cholera)
  • Cuba: The Kingdom of this World by Alejo Carpentier
  • Ecuador: The Potbellied Virgin by Alicia Yánez Cossío
  • Mexico: Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo
  • Peru: Birds without a Nest by Clorinda Matto de Turner
  • Venezuela: Iphigenia by Teresa de la Parra

This list is probably ridiculous to anyone who knows anything. Unfortunately, I don’t. Also, there are a ton of countries not on it, because I didn’t find anything for them (in the very brief research period allotted).

Also, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do a lot more Argentina…obviously a whole project unto itself.

So if anyone has any suggestions, better ideas, things not to be missed, other directions to go in…pile on. I think, maybe, I will be getting to this in mid- or late summer, after I finish my Melville project (which I should be re-starting in a few weeks). The one thing I will say, in terms of “what I am looking for,” is that I’m not really interested in anything about a place but not written in its tradition. Oh, that is meaningful! Time to stop now I think.

10 comments to Preliminary info on a possible Latin American project

  • Well, I now want to hear about those. So this is not meant to replace anything but merely pile on:

    Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis is amazing, “the greatest Brazilian writer,” well-represented in English, and wrote short books.

    Then there’s this César Aira cat. Five books in English now, four of them extremely short, out of dozens in Spanish. I’ve read two, and am puzzled and curious. Argentinean, not surprisingly.

  • A few years ago I made a trip to Guatemala (incredibly beautiful place)-I read on the trip (in English) El Senor Presidente-1946-The President by Nobel Prize winning Miguel Asturias-it is an account of life under a dictatorship-it is written in a kind of surrealistic style and has elements of magic realism-I really enjoyed it and it is a classic Latin American novel

  • nicole

    Oh yes, I heard of Aira just the other day and thought it sounded like something to be added to the list.

    These all look like excellent tips. Thanks to you both!

  • I want to put in a vote for Into the Beautiful North (Mexico) by Luis Alberto Urrea. Light and fun but also serious, comic. I loved it.

    I’ll be stealing some titles from you when I move a bit further south…I’m stuck in Nicaragua at the moment for my S. American reading project.

  • nicole

    How did I manage to forget you were doing a similar project? I remember you blogged a couple titles that really appealed to me at the time. To the archives!

  • Very interesting list, Nicole–thanks for sharing! Just started the García Márquez classic after somehow managing to avoid that for years. Loved your Carpentier and Rulfo selections. Have other de la Parra and Lispector works in my own TBR pile at home. Other than that Ricardo Piglia novel that I’ve already recommended to you, I’d also recommend you consider adding Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas (short, hilarious, very different from 2666, and a great boon companion to your Borges reading) and Fernando Vallejo’s Our Lady of the Assassins (sort of a Colombian Céline launching a surrealistic jeremiad against violence) to your list. Oh, and I second Amateur Reader’s pick for some Machado de Assis (both Dom Casmurro and The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas are delightful and witty), too!

  • nicole

    Oh yes, Nazi Literature is next on the Bolaño list for me; Amateur Reader blogged it a while back and it sounded perfect for me. Thanks for the recommendations and glad to hear I am on a decent track.

  • I just blogged on Two newly translated Roberto Bolano short stories I liked a lot-both can be read on line at the web page of The New Yorker-the link is in my post-

  • Eva

    I find this list and the comments very helpful! I’m not overly acquainted with Latin American lit myself, so I’m always looking for new ideas. :)

  • Not my field, but let me put in a vote for Lispector’s “The Hour of the Star.” I also second Mel’s recommendation of Asturias’ “The President.” I also like his “Men of Maize,” which is absolutely both about a place and in a tradition.