Fall 2015: Best Latin American books
Fall 2015: Best Latin American books
The names behind fall’s predicted bestsellers are instantly recognisable: Franzen (Purity), Atwood (The Heart Goes Last), Rushdie (Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights), and Oates (The Lost Landscape), to name only a few. In the fanfare surrounding the new releases by these familiar names, it’s easy to overlook the names of authors who aren’t as well known to US readers – yet. Fall 2015 promises a crop of new English-language books drawn from Latin America and Spain’s vibrant, thriving literary landscape, as well as from Latino/a writers in the US. While they may get some airtime during Hispanic Heritage Month (15 September-15 October), these Latino reads deserve shelf space any time of year.
Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free
The paperback edition of Héctor Tobar’s book will be released on Tuesday, timed to the fifth anniversary of the real-life mining drama that captivated the world’s attention. For readers who missed this bestseller’s initial release, Tobar’s chronicle of trapped – and ultimately rescued – Chilean miners will impress: it’s an exquisite, ambitious piece of nonfiction that manages to render the personalities and experiences of more than 30 protagonists, their families and various government and private sector players in a way that is thorough, fair and, remarkably, organised.
Deep Down Dark begins by immersing the reader in the underground world of the mine, a place most readers will never visit, making it terrifyingly real through careful, vivid detail. It continues through the miners’ 69 days trapped underground, their dramatic rescue, and, finally, the ups and downs of their lives after they returned to life aboveground. Tobar draws fully upon his skills as both a journalist and a fiction writer, drawing portraits of protagonists that are humane and complex without being sentimental or judgmental.
Enrique Villa-Matas, The Illogic of Kassel.
If you’re the kind of person who’d prefer to stay far away from a contemporary art museum, or the kind who, upon seeing a canvas painted with a single monochromatic rectangle, would say, “Well, I could paint that,” then maybe Enrique Vila-Matas’s The Illogic of Kassel isn’t for you.
Yet I’d say perhaps it is for you, for precisely that reason. As Vilas-Matas’s narrator says, alluding to a quotation from Stéphane Mallarmé, it’s “not about the thing, but the effect it produces”. Mallarmé and the narrator are referring to art, but the quotation could also be applied to writing and, of course, to this book.
Vila-Matas’s neurotic narrator is simultaneously entranced and confused by the art of his age, a subject he has ample opportunity to contemplate since he is a novelist who has been invited to become an artwork at the Documenta art festival, which takes place in Kassel, Germany, every five years. The author handles the subject matter deftly, writing about art in a way that’s convincing and entertaining, as well as profound, touching on bigger, deeper “meaning of life” questions.
Jennine Capó Crucet, Make Your Home Among Strangers.
Jennine Capó Crucet’s debut novel, about a whip-smart daughter of Cuban immigrants who leaves her Miami home against her parents’ wishes to attend an elite college, will inevitably resonate among first-generation Americans, especially Cubans, who are, “ni de aquí, ni de ahí” (“neither from here nor there”). But the themes of the book are also universal enough to appeal to a wider audience. At nearly 400 pages, it’s a long novel, but one that moves at a quick clip, thanks to animated dialogue among characters.
Lizet will be recognizable to many children of immigrants who have a foot in two distinct cultures and, often, different social classes. Her flaws make her a believable character, and her flashes of insight – “I’d expected … like everything else [at the elite college] – [for information] to feel hidden from me but also somehow in plain sight” – will compel many readers to nod their heads in familiarity.
Valeria Luiselli, The Story of My Teeth.
Valeria Luiselli’s latest genre-defying book continues exploring the author’s preoccupation with Mexico City – an understandable obsession given the endless number of stories that unfold there daily. Besides its engaging characters and plot, there’s the equally compelling backstory of this book, which Luiselli wrote in collaboration with employees of Mexico’s Jumex, an industrial giant that produces and distributes juice. Luiselli connected with the workers after she’d been asked to write an exhibition catalogue by a gallery funded by the company. She had them consult on every element of the book.
The Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector
“A female Chekhov on the beaches of Guanabara [Brazil]” is how editor Benjamin Moser describes writer Clarice Lispector in this first English-language translation of Lispector’s complete body of short stories, published by New Directions just this month. Lispector, who died in 1977, is largely unknown to English-speaking readers, but was among Brazil’s most well-known 20th-century writers.
The significance of this volume, as Moser writes in his introduction, is that while the stories are fiction, their characters, conflicts and challenges were drawn from Lispector’s own life; as such, the book serves as “a record of a woman’s entire life, written over a woman’s entire life … a woman who was not interrupted: a woman who did not start writing late, or stop for marriage of children, or succumb to drugs or suicide”. Lispector was privileged, yes, but her writing reflected the realities of the Brazilian bourgeoisie and The Complete Stories is an account, albeit fictional, that helps contemporary readers understand more about current class issues in Brazil.
Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/o LGBT Activism
This book, a collaboration between two scholars and an activist, fills a major void in LGBT, Latino/a, and activist histories, privileging the first-person recollections of Latino and Latina leaders in LGBT movements in the United States. The editors’ transparency about the processes they used to select, translate, and edit the included essays makes for interesting reading in itself.
While Queer Brown Voices is likely to become a seminal text in college and university queer studies programs, its conversational tone makes it compelling for a general reader as well.