Are you a travel lover and looking for ways to discover a culture and country from home? One of my favorite things to do when I am abroad is to visit a local book store and look for works of local authors. I also like to read travel stories, biographies and history books. During my travels, I’ve collected different books from all over the Latin American continent. This is a list with my favorite books from Central- and South-America. Including classic novels, modern authors, famous poets, interesting and inspiring stories. From Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Peru.
Books from South America
- Mario Vargas Llosa is one the most famous novelists, coming from Peru and an important figure in Latin American literature. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010. Must-read books include “La Casa Verde”, (The Green House) and “La ciudad y los Perros” (The time of the Hero).
- Another great author is José María Arguedas. His work is well known for its stories about indigenous people. “Deep Rivers” is about a boy who travels with his father through the Andes to the former capital of the Incas: Cuzco. A great book if you have visited this area or planning to. “Yawar Fiesta” is an interesting book about festivals and rituals, by indigenous people in the Andes.
- Have you visited Machu Picchu or are you planning to? It might be interested to learn more about the discovery of this amazing place, by Hiram Bingham. The book is called Hiram Bingham: “The Lost City of the Incas”. Definitely recommended when it comes to books about Central and South America.
- If you like to read novels, you have probably heard of Gabriel García Márquez. He is one of South America’s most famous authors and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. Books such as “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera” take you into the history of Colombia, but also into everyday life. His own unique and beautiful way of describing things made him world famous. I recommend reading any of his books.
- Ingrid Bettancourt, was kidnapped by the FARC, while campaigning as a candidate in the Colombian presidential elections in 2002. In “Even Silence has an End” she tells the story about her life, as a prisoner of the FARC, during six and a half years in the depths of the jungle. A captivating story about the history and current sensitivities in Colombia. Definitely recommended when it comes to books on historical topics in Central and South America.
- Do you want to be taken on a journey through Patagonia? the rough and isolated southern part of Argentina? Bruce Chatwin is guiding you through impressive Patagonia to the end of the world in the book called “In Patagonia”. Definitely recommended if you are interested in books about nature in Central and South America.
- “The Uttermost part of the Earth” by Lucas Bridges is a must-read travel history book. Lucas Bridges was the son of Thomas Bridges, who was determined to evangelise the Yamana people, living around the Beagle Channel, at the end of the world. Lucas Bridges explains how he grew up at the estancia Haberton, between the native Ona and Yamana people. A place, you are still able to visit from the current city of Ushuaia.
- Do you like reading books of Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa? Then you definitely have to start reading books of Julio Cortázar. Julio Cortázar is one of Latin America’s most important modern authors and a master in playing with words. One of his classic books is called “Rayuela” (Hopscotch), about city life in Paris and Buenos Aires. Another famous book is “Libro de Manuel”, (A Manual for Manuel), wich was an inspiration for many national and international authors.
- Bookshops, squares and streets are called after this author. Everywhere in the country you will find the name of Jorge Luis Borges, one of Argentinas most important poets. Famous for his incredible use of words and playing with reality and fiction. “Ficciones”, “The Aleph and Other stories”, “The Book of Sands” are books that are called masterworks in Latin American literature. People all around the world continue reading his work.
- Isabel Allende is one of the most famous authors coming from Chile. Her novels are very accessible and about different themes. Including her childhood in Santiago, the years she spent in exile but also family stories and history. Her books have been translated into more than 30 different languages and sold more than 56 million copies. The following books are my favorites: “Paula”, “Island Beneath the Sea” set in New Orleans, “El Cuaderno de Maya” (Maya’s Notebook) wich brings you from California, to Las Vegas and the Chilean Island Chiloé. But there are many more worth reading such as “City of the Beasts”, “Kingdom of the Golden Dragon”, “The House of the Spirits”, “The Japanese Lover” and “In the Midst of Wintera”.
- Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda belong to the most important poets of the 20th century in Chile. Especially Pablo Neruda is a historical icon in literature and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971. His political ideas and friendship with Chilean president Salvador Allende made him even more remarkable. One of his most famous works are “Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada” and the political engaged “Canto general.” I love the book called “Libro de Las Preguntas”, (The book of Questions) and “La Roda Seperada”, about his visits to Eastern Island. If you would like to read the best work of Pablo Neruda in one book, I recommend reading The essential Neruda | Selected poems. This bilingual collection consists of Neruda’s most essential poems.
- Mi vida junto a Pablo Neruda, guides you through the history of Chile through the eyes of Matilde Urrutia, Pablo Neruda’s wife, during the times of Salvador Allende and the coup.
Books from Central America & Mexico
- Check out the books of Rodrigo Rey Rosa such as “La orilla africana” (The African Shore) and “Human Matter”. The book “What Sebastian Dreamt” can be seen in a movie as well. His works have been translated into different languages.
- I, Rigoberta Menchú is a heartbreaking story about the indigenous people in Guatemala during the civil war. A must-read to understand more about the history in Guatemala. Menchú is a human rights activist from Guatemala and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.
- Miguel Angel Asturias is one of Guatemala’s most famous novelists. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1967. His works are about daily life and politics in Guatemala. Very interesting to read if you want to understand more about the culture and history of the country. Well known books are “Hombres de maíz” (Men of Maize), “El Señor Presidente” and “Leyendas de Guatemala”.
- “One Day of Life”, by Manlio Argueta is a book, I highly recommend reading, if you want to understand more about the history and daily life in El Salvador. One Day of Life, has been translated into over 12 languages. The book takes the reader through one day of the life of Lupe, a grandmother in a small village of El Salvador. Although she is not very educated, she relates her personal observations, to paint a picture of the brutality with which the Salvadoran army treated the lower class during this time period. Because of its negative portrayal of the Salvadoran government and its perceived ability to incite rebellious activity, One Day of Life was banned from El Salvador. Definitely recommended when it comes to books on historical topics in Central and South America.
- The Ladies of Managua, by Eleni N. Gage, follows three generations of women, each with her own secret, as they explore their intense relationships to each other, and to their homeland, Nicaragua. A true recommendation to understand more about Nicaragua.
- One of Nicaraguas most famous poets and authors is Rubén Darío. He initiated the Spanish-American literary movement that flourished at the end of the 19th century. Darío has had a great and lasting influence on 20th-century Spanish literature and journalism. Some people even say that his work belongs to the best in Spanish language, ever written. His best and most famous work is called “Cantos de Vida y Esperanza” (Songs of Life and Hope).
- Sandra Cisneros is a Mexican-American writer. Her work experiments with literary forms and investigates subjects such as cultural diversity and economic inequality. She is therefore regarded as a key figure in Chicana literature, or Mexican – American literature. Well known novels are called “The House on Mango street” and “Caramelo”, a semi-autobiographical novel, inspired by her Mexican heritage and childhood in Chicago.
- There are many book written about Frida Kahlo. I love the book, Frida Kahlo, by Rauda Jamis. A portrait of this notable Mexican painter, combines biographical materials with the artist’s original writings.
- Did you watch the movies “Amores Perros” and “Babel”? written by the The Mexican screenwriter and author Guillermo Arriaga? One of his latest well known books is called The Savage, a beautiful book, I highly recommend reading.
- The New York Times described Carlos Fuentes as “one of the most admired writers in the Spanish-speaking world” while The Guardian called him “Mexico’s most celebrated novelist”. Among his works are The Death of Artemio Cruz, Aura, Inez and Terra Nostra. Especially this last one is a recommendation, if you are interested in Spanish and Latin American history and culture. The Old Gringo is a novel about death, cultural exchange, and Mexican identity. Its English-language translation became the first novel by a Mexican author to become a U.S. bestseller. In 1989, the novel was adapted into a movie, starring Jane Fonda.
- Interested in the border situation between Mexico and the USA? I was fascinated by the book “Amexica” by Ed Vulliamy, wich explains a lot about the history, current situation and relation between the countries. It can be difficult to purchase but you can find the latest paperback edition here.
- The Popul Vuh is called the holy book of the Mayas, with different stories about the creation and development of the (Maya) world.
- Are you interested in Maya historical sites and history? Then I recommend reading “Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán” by Catherwood and Stevens, about the discovery of many Maya sites in Yucatán, Mexico.
- “Dreaming in Cuban” is the first novel written by Cuban born novelist Cristina García. The story moves between Cuba and the United States, featuring three generations of a single family. The novel’s themes include family relationships, exile, the divisiveness of politics, and memory. Cuban history and culture are important in the novel, including important historical events and the elements of Santería.
- Do you know the song “Guantanamera“? It’s a poem of José Martí, one of Cubas most important poets, writers, philosophers and journalists. He is considered a Cuban national hero because of his role in the liberation of his country. Martí was an important figure in Latin American literature and his statue can be seen all over Cuba. Because of his criticism during the Spanish colonization, he was deported to Spain. During his time in Spain he wrote many political engaged poems, manifests and articles aiming for independence and a liberal Latin America. I bought his book “La edad de oro” with different poems, originally created for children to educate them about love, justice and values. Nowadays this work plays an important role in Latin American literature.
- Alejo Carpentier is famous for works such as “El reino de este mundo” (The Kingdom of this World), highlighting the Haitian Revolution of the 18th century and “Los pasos perdidos” (The Lost Steps), searching for the essential values in life. All of his works, highlight afro american culture and society in the Caribbean. Interesting if you want to learn more about Cuban culture.
- Other interesting books related to Cuba are “Che Guevara, the motorcycle diaries“. “Remembering Che”, my life with Che Guevara, written by Aleida March (che’s second wife) and “Cien horas con Fidel“, conversations with Ignacio Ramonet.
- Esmeralda Santiago is a Puerto Rican authors, known for her novels and memoirs. Books worth reading are “When I was Puerto Rican“, “Almost a Woman” (Casi una mujer)
- Julia Alvarez is a Dominican – American poet, novelist and essayist. Many literary critics regard her to be one of the most significant Latina writers. “Time of the Butterflies” is a historical fiction novel about the Mirabal sisters during the time of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. The story was adapted into a feature film in 2001, starring Selma Hayek. Other books worth reading are “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents” and Yo!
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Discover art from Central and South America
Do you want to get inspired by art coming from Central and South America? Check out this article about the most famous modern art and artists coming from Latin America.