Good books to read before wandering about Central and South America
November 11, 2005 10:56 AM   Subscribe

Good books to read before wandering about Central and South America for a few months?

Culture and history and politics. The relationships between neighbor countries and neighboring people. Current affairs in the context of a greater story.
posted by airguitar to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
'One Hundred Years of Solitude' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
'Love in the Time of Cholera' also by GGM
posted by vkxmai at 11:01 AM on November 11, 2005

Lost City of the Incas, by Hiram Bingham ("discoverer" of Macchu Picchu)
The Motorcycle Diaries, by Che Guevara (now available in movie form, which I quite liked.)
posted by skyboy at 11:16 AM on November 11, 2005

gonzalo contreras and alberto fuguet are two good current chilean writers who depict current/recent chilean culture (in spanish).
posted by andrew cooke at 11:20 AM on November 11, 2005

Can you be a little more specific, or is it still up in the air? Central and South America is a rather large place. If you are going to be wandering, I'll suggest The Motorcycle Diaries and/or its modern follow-up, Chasing Che. If you are going to Mexico and have some time on your hands, check out Enrique Krauze's informative Mexico: A Biography of Power. David McCullough's Path Between the Seas is a fascinating account of the construction of the Panama Canal.
posted by ambrosia at 11:23 AM on November 11, 2005

The Jaguar Smile : A Nicaraguan Journey, by Salman Rushdie
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:26 AM on November 11, 2005

On post-view, let me add another: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.
posted by ambrosia at 11:27 AM on November 11, 2005

Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia is one of the best travel narratives ever written. It's about the southern end of South America, though, and I don't know how far south you were planning on going.
posted by goatdog at 11:52 AM on November 11, 2005

The Bridge of San Luis Rey - Thornton Wilder

and second In Patagonia
posted by cyphill at 11:58 AM on November 11, 2005

Response by poster: Can you be a little more specific, or is it still up in the air?

It is. The one place I'll be sure to visit is Honduras (my sister is a teacher there). After that I'm going to have to make it up, so I want to have some wits about me as I go. From early January through the end of February. Enough to read a paper or hold a conversation and find the new details against a background of common history or convention.
posted by airguitar at 12:15 PM on November 11, 2005

Maybe The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, The Power and The Glory by Graham Greene, some of Pablo Neruda's poetry or Joe Simpson's "Touching The Void". I'd also second 100 Years of Solitude and In Patagonia.
posted by rongorongo at 12:23 PM on November 11, 2005

Read up on the history of the Maya also.
posted by rongorongo at 12:31 PM on November 11, 2005

I second the In Patagonia / Bruce Chatwin nod, but obviously, less if you're going to stick around Central America.

But : absolutely read
Century of the Wind by Eduardo Galeano. Its the third book of a trilogy but, unlike the first two (Genesis and Faces and Masks), focusses on the 20th century in Latin America. Amazing stuff. (The first two take up themes of first contract between Europeans and Native Americans and colonialism, respectively.)
posted by bumpkin at 12:42 PM on November 11, 2005

"Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard (1904), generally acknowledged to be Conrad's masterpiece, is set on the north coast of South America, but in no particular country, though resemblances to Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, and Ecuador have all been noted in Conrad's portrayal of Costaguana."
posted by bmckenzie at 12:56 PM on November 11, 2005

The Loss of El Dorado, a history by V. S. Naipaul.
posted by lukemeister at 2:23 PM on November 11, 2005

... and A Death in Brazil by Peter Robb if you get that far east.
posted by lukemeister at 2:38 PM on November 11, 2005

How about Road Fever by Tim Cahill for a lighter, funnier read?

If you define "adventure travel" as anything that's more fun to read about than to live through, then Tim Cahill's Road Fever is the adventure of a lifetime. Along with professional long-distance driver Garry Sowerby, Cahill drove 15,000 miles from the southernmost tip of Tierra del Fuego to the northernmost terminus of the Dalton Highway in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, from one end of the world to another, in a record-breaking 23 1/2 days. Just like the authors' camper-shelled GMC Sierra truck, the narrative bounces along at a relentless pace. Along the way Cahill and Sowerby cope with mood swings, engine trouble, Andean cliffs, obstinate bureaucracies, slick highways, armed and uncomprehending soldiery (not to mention the challenges of securing O.P.M., or Other People's Money--the sine qua non of adventure, Cahill observes).
posted by nitsuj at 3:20 PM on November 11, 2005

a great one, Nostromo (also the name of the space ship in Aliens haha). It's older, and showsa more 19th C. attitude about S. America, but it's a superb book & does have a real sense of S. American beginnings & the colonial period.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:40 PM on November 11, 2005

One I haven't seen mentioned yet is The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux.
posted by Melinika at 7:52 AM on November 12, 2005

The fruit Palace

is a rip roaring tale through Colombia, a great back packers read and insight into the cocaine business.
posted by johoney at 4:07 PM on December 23, 2005

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