Recommend me some great South American fiction
August 10, 2010 5:26 AM   Subscribe

Less magical, more realism. Recommend me some great South American fiction.

A friend is spending a month travelling in Peru, Chile and Bolivia and she’s asked me to recommend some books to take. Highlights of the trip will include hiking in Torres del Paine, a long boat trip around Tierra del Fuego and learning to tango in Argentina.
She would love to read some great books set in the countries she’ll be visiting. Ideally fiction, but travel writing or biography is ok, however, she’s not looking for a history text-book.
Caveat: she’s not a fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or magical-realism as a genre.
I'd love your suggestions for some great holiday reading.
posted by sleepy boy to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Clandestine in Chile by Garcia Marquez is more like a political thriller / memior -
it is certainly not his usual magical realism.
it is based on the memior of a chilean film maker.
and it is an amazing book but the pinochet era in chile.
posted by Flood at 5:42 AM on August 10, 2010

Inés of My Soul by Isabel Allende - historical fiction about the Spanish conquest of Chile. Great stuff.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:54 AM on August 10, 2010

Death in the Andes and other works by Mario Vargas Llosa
posted by cross_impact at 6:07 AM on August 10, 2010

Anti-caveat: I hate Marquez and love Allende.
posted by schmod at 6:30 AM on August 10, 2010

Tree of Red Stars is pretty great, I am not sure if it is actually fiction as it reads pretty biographically.

For non fiction, The Motorcycle Diaries are pretty interesting, and it does give you a glimpse at the pampered young man who would turn into Che. Also Born in Blood and Fire is a fantastic history book about the continent, and it will give you friend a lot of important info about why things are they way they are, but it is decidedly academic.
posted by BobbyDigital at 6:46 AM on August 10, 2010

I read Martín Rivas before I went to Chile 8 years ago.
posted by srah at 7:46 AM on August 10, 2010

You'll have an awesome time with Borges
posted by Tarumba at 7:50 AM on August 10, 2010

Also Bryce Echenique, from Peru, as well as Jaime Bayly, and Julio Ramon Ribeyro.

As mentioned above, Mario Vargas Llosa is pretty huge in Latin America, although he renounced his Peruvian citizenship a couple of years ago, and became Spanish.

If your friend doesn't mind reading plays, I recommend Collacocha, by Enrique Solari Swayne, too.

If she does not like magical realism, I don't recommend Allende. I personally find her a bit too childish. In Peru at least, most of her books are the standard for 14-16 year olds.

I am Peruvian, so I can recommend mostly Peruvian stuff. Maybe someone else can help with Chile and Argentina.
posted by Tarumba at 8:04 AM on August 10, 2010

I didn't mean to sound too stuck-up about Allende. She happens to be the standard for those ages, because a bunch of her books are curriculum-required reading in the last years of secondary school in Peru. I am aware that she's a very talented Chilean writer.
posted by Tarumba at 8:08 AM on August 10, 2010

(FWIW, the Allende I recommended is not magical realism and is straight up historical fiction. Just felt like pointing that out.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:21 AM on August 10, 2010

Nthing Borges because he is wonderful, but with the caveat that his middle-and-later work veers into something that might be too close to magical realism for your tastes. It's not magical realism, specifically, but if you hate that sort of thing, this could be the the sort of thing you hate.

From people I trust, Cortazar's Hopscotch is supposed to be good, as are Bolano's Savage Detectives and 2666.

On preview, I cannot vouch for these novels being precisely what you're looking for, based on the countries you mention, but I have on the word of friends whose taste I trust that they are very, very good.
posted by gauche at 8:32 AM on August 10, 2010

(2666 is amazingly good, yes. It is also centered in Mexico, specifically on a fictional town based on Juarez. Might not be what your friend is looking for. It's also EXCRUCIATINGLY graphic and difficult to read in some places.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:37 AM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all of these - this is really useful.
I'm meeting my friend at the weekend, so keep your suggestions coming!
posted by sleepy boy at 9:03 AM on August 10, 2010

I'd recommend one of Che's diaries (The Motorcycle Diaries) for light history but still a really great story.

For a less-lengthy Bolano, I recommend By Night in Chile.
posted by questionsandanchors at 12:07 PM on August 10, 2010

Also, if she has any interest at all in poetry, Pablo Neruda's 100 Love Sonnets.
posted by questionsandanchors at 12:11 PM on August 10, 2010

Seconding the suggestion of Roberto Bolano on general principles - easily the best thing I have read in the past few years. Definitely fits your less magical / more realist requirement compared to Marquez, of which I am not a great fan either.

That being said, calling his work South American is not entirely accurate: His two major works, The Savage Detectives and 2666 take place mostly in Mexico and anyway are rather global in scope.

Borges is also a good suggestion, and can be nicely paired with his friend and collaborator Adolfo Bioy Casares.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:16 PM on August 10, 2010

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