Mejore Mi Castellano
August 6, 2007 11:28 AM   Subscribe

I need to read something in Spanish. I want excellent writing, with involving plots, and it must be in print. Good detective fiction perhaps?

I am English, moved to S America 5 or 6 years ago, and speak Spanish fairly well. However, I am now working from home for an English-speaking company and, without day-to-day practice, my Spanish is getting noticeably worse. To compensate I have started to read Spanish fiction (including translations from other languages). My problem is that it is difficult to find books which: (1) I have not already read (so recent is good); (2) are in print; (3) are well written; (4) are involving.

The last of these (involving) is critical - I find it much easier to read in English, so if the book doesn't suck me in I get frustrated and dump it. Because of this, I thought I would try crime fiction which (I thought) has a reputation for blending quality writing with engrossing plots. However, I have had mixed results: Sciascia (One Way or Another) was excellent - subtle, angry, balanced, clear; Mankell (Insp. Wallander; Firewalls) was a disaster (how can the author of a book with such clumsy plotting and heavy-handed editorial voice - "later Wallander would realise he had made a deadly mistake, but for now...." - have a good reputation?)

Maybe I have high standards - favourite authors include De Lillo, Greene, Didion, Auster, Markson, and Chandler (who would be an excellent suggestion if I hadn't already read most).

PS Local Chilean writers are a plus - I have tried Diaz Eterovic, which was OK, but not great (and also Fuguet and Contreras).
posted by andrew cooke to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
i read arturo perez reverte's "captain alatriste" in english, and found it delightful (not too heavy, swashbuckling but elegant). the series is supposed to be very popular, which doesn't surprise me. he writes in spanish, so i imagine you will be able to find it in a local bookstore.

ps, i didn't care for mankell either.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:36 AM on August 6, 2007

On Preview, I see Thinkingwoman beat me to it. So let me add, in addition to the Swashbuckling series, Reverte (who is from Spain) wrote a couple of mysteries: The Flanders Panel and Club Dumas (which the movie The Ninth Gate was based on)

I've described those two books to friends as Umberto Eco-LIGHT mysteries. They have the same educated feel, but don't require a PhD in semiotics to get.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 11:44 AM on August 6, 2007

Have you tried Jose Donoso? I loved Casa de Campo and Obsceno Pajaro de la Noche. The former is a great joy to read for the dialog and for the plot. The latter for its depth and complexity.

If you like the pace of detective novels I'd also try Alejo de Carpentier.

I know the above is classic rather than contemporary but you didn't mention them so I thought I would.
posted by vacapinta at 11:48 AM on August 6, 2007

I was going to recommend Perez-Reverte as well. His "Flanders Panel," "Ninth Gate" and "Club Dumas" are among my favorite novels - regardless of language.
posted by librarianamy at 11:49 AM on August 6, 2007

D'oh - that shouldn't read "Ninth Gate" (I apparently have Johnny Depp on the brain) - as mentioned above that's the movie adaptation. I'll also recommend "Seville Communion" and "Nautical Chart".

What I like is that he often takes classic works, and interweaves their plots into his own - using the work of Dumas and the Three Musketeers almost as characters of their own. Same goes for "Nautical Chart" and the Count of Monte Cristo. I've read several of them more than once, but I think I'm probably a raving lunatic fan of his.
posted by librarianamy at 11:53 AM on August 6, 2007

Rosaura a las diez, by Marco Denevi. College reading many years back. At least good enough that I didn't sell it back at the end of term (also true of many that I should have, but hey).
posted by LoraxGuy at 12:08 PM on August 6, 2007


Previously previously.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:09 PM on August 6, 2007

I recently read Dog Day (in translation) by Alicia Giménez-Bartlett, and enjoyed it very much. Only a couple of Bartlett's Petra Delicado mysteries have been translated into English, so if it turns out that you like her detective writing you can have the pleasure of reading ten novels not yet available to her English-reading audience.
posted by mumkin at 12:34 PM on August 6, 2007

Julio Cortazar short stories?

Or you might try the Spanish novelist Javier Marias. He tends to go off on sort of meditative, long tangents, but somehow stays involving. The English language writer he most reminds me of is Alice Munro, although I can't quite explain why. Not the style so much as the feel -- one person trying to make sense of life, interspersed with the occasional dramatic event.
posted by footnote at 12:43 PM on August 6, 2007

thanks guys. i am wary of "historical fiction", but guess in another context i wouldn't be reading detective stories either, so i should give perez reverte a go. there's actually a book of donoso's on the shelf here, so i'll try that next (is carpetier y valmont getting close to magic realism? how driving is the plot?). denevi and gimenez bartlett look good too (anyone else want to comment on how well written her work is - looks a bit "popular", but that's not exactly a reliable indicator either way).

on preview - probably not ready for "meditative long tangents" yet.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:56 PM on August 6, 2007

Have you read all of Cortázar, Vargas Llosa (esp. Lituma en los Andes and ¿Quién mató a Palomino Molero?, both sort of detective novels), García Márquez and Bryce Echeñique? You should.
Also, take a look at Roberto Bolaño, who was chilean though he lived in Mexico, especially Los Detectives Salvajes, which despite its title is not a detective novel, alas.
posted by signal at 2:16 PM on August 6, 2007

Have you read Jorge Luis Borges? I am completely in love with his writing. I've mostly read him in English, although some years ago I read La Muerte y la Brujula (which is a detective story) in Spanish. I'm so taken with his work that I'm writing an album based on the ideas in his short stories. Dreamtigers skirts the boundaries between prose poetry and short story, while Labyrinths and Ficciones are collections of short stories.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:21 PM on August 6, 2007

there's apparently a detective story by borges in aleph and other stories (or whatever it's called), but that seems to be out of print at the moment. i should read borges (eventually), but was assuming it would be too hard for now (or it has a different name in spanish - couldn't find it a couple of weeks ago). maybe not. signal - i read some marquez and vargas llosa in english and wasn't that taken with either (sorry!), but maybe i should try again; will look at the other names you mention.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:44 PM on August 6, 2007

Well, as I mentioned above, the one detective story by Borges that I know of is La muerte y la brujula (Death and the Compass), which I found on Amazon in Spanish in Ficciones.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:57 PM on August 6, 2007

I second Vargas Llosa, and his La tía Julia y el escribidor is also very much a page-turner, though not in a detective sense.

Along a more true-crime line is García Márquez's Noticia de un secuestro, which is vastly different from his fiction but equally satisfying.

More recent, you have Roberto Bolaño's Los detectivos salvajes, which came out in 1999, which I haven't yet had the pleasure of reading - but the translation into English was reviewed very favorably in the New York Times a couple months ago.
posted by bijou at 3:33 PM on August 6, 2007

oh, sorry ludwig_van - we're probably talking about the same story.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:37 PM on August 6, 2007

How about Carlos Ruiz Zafon's ultra-successful 'La Sombre del Viento'. A mysterious and complex thriller...
posted by Rufus T. Firefly at 4:34 PM on August 6, 2007

that should be 'La Sombra...'!
posted by Rufus T. Firefly at 4:36 PM on August 6, 2007

Paco Ignacio Taibo II
- I havent read him in spanish so cant vouch for that but " He has received the international Dashiell Hammett award for best detective story three times"
posted by canoehead at 6:05 PM on August 6, 2007

You might also read Isabel Allende. Her first novel La Casa de los Espíritus is sort of a "Cien Años de Soledad"-lite with the finale set during the Chilean Golpe in 1973.
Borges is a bit harder, but reading it in the original would be more than enough reward for learning Spanish. Start with Ficciones.
For Cortázar, start with Historias de Cronopios y Famas, which is probably the best piece of surreal literature I've ever come across, and an easy read as it's a series of short vignettes.
posted by signal at 6:25 PM on August 6, 2007

Another thing: if you're going to the trouble of reading in Spanish, you should take the opportunity to read stuff that can't really be translated, like Borges and Cortázar, and, to a lesser degree, García Márquez (try Crónica de una Muerta Anunciada, non-linear story telling decades before Pulp Fiction, and a murder story to boot).
posted by signal at 6:31 PM on August 6, 2007

Roberto Ampuero is a crime novelist from Chile. His Spanish is fairly easy to read, and I think his work would be enjoyable.
posted by bijou at 12:05 AM on May 11, 2008

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