Fiction book(s) on Mexico or Mexican History to read with my grandma
November 27, 2007 8:09 AM   Subscribe

What is your favorite book or DVD series about Mexico? Particularly historical fiction or contemporary fiction. Preferably in English, but if you have a great recommendation in Spanish, I'd take that too! My grandmother thanks you!

My grandma is Mexican, and is the 3rd generation of British expats who ended up in Mexico through complicated travels and drama. She's a history buff but doesn't read much in the way of contemporary novels. She's getting on in age, so something in the form of short stories would probably help her concentrate, but I won't limit the responses to that (something like Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies but set in/around Mexico?) She has a great sense of humor, but isn't particularly sympathetic to the Zapatistas at the moment, to give you a sense of her politics.

I'd love love to find her a few books that use historical fiction to tell a great tale, or contemporary fiction that interweaves history into it (like Middlesex), immigrants into Mexico, the Mexican revolution, complicated family histories, or even Mexican immigration to the US or other parts. I saw the other thread on books about Mexican immigrants to the US, and I have a few other ideas there, but other than Sandra Cisneros' Caramelo, nothing totally jumped out at me. It's a little long for her, at 400 pages, I think.

A DVD series might be good too, but she's a little deaf so without subtitles it gets complicated.

I'd like to read these books with her, so we can talk about them over our Christmas holiday and beyond. I'll take as many recommendations as you can suggest - preferably with a few little lines of explanation rather than just the title so I can figure out how to proceed with the massive selection out there!

Really what she wants is more time with her family living all over the world, so I thought if I bought a bunch of copies of a few of these books, some of us could read them together and email our thoughts. She's better on email than the phone anyway, since she's so deaf. Thanks in advance.
posted by barnone to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr might interest her, about an American couple who relocate to a small Mexican town to work a mine. The border trilogy by Cormac McCarthy (All the Pretty Horses in particular) might or might not work -- incredible writing, but not for the faint of heart. I haven't read Like Water for Chocolate, but I liked the movie.

Not fiction, and the writing is a bit dated, but John Reed's Insurgent Mexico about his travels with Pancho Villa is another possibility. Reed was played by Warren Beatty in Reds.
posted by Killick at 9:06 AM on November 27, 2007

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
posted by pluckysparrow at 10:19 AM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: The Days of Ofelia

A Visit to Don Otavio: A Traveller's Tale from Mexico

these are both charming, slow paced creative non-fiction works about the respective author's (both women) experiences in Mexico.
posted by canoehead at 10:21 AM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Gabriel García Márquez is Colombian, 100 Years of Solitude takes place in a Colombian village. It has nothing to do with life in Mexico (nor in Colombia, I think).

I really like anything from Artemio de Valle Arizpe. He mostly wrote chronicles and legends of 19th century Mexico City. It might not be as interesting to your grandma if she's not from the city. I have heard great things of his novel La Güera Rodríguez, which is a fictionalized biography of a Mexican socialite from the 18th century.

Como agua para chocolate is a popular bestseller, and takes place in the Revolution era. Does your grandma live in Mexico? If she does, she has probably read it.

From Ángeles Mastretta: Arráncame la vida and Mal de amores. The first one also takes place in the Revolution era, the second one in the Mexico City in the early 20th century.

Also, anything from the great humorist Jorge Ibargüengoitia. My favorite is Las Muertas, which is inspired in a sordid murder case in a brothel.

Many of these books are available in English and Spanish. Some Mexican online libraries: Gandhi, El sótano, Fondo de Cultura. Also, a library in the US.
posted by clearlydemon at 1:09 PM on November 27, 2007

I screwed up my last link: Fondo de Cultura USA.
posted by clearlydemon at 1:10 PM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: I wrote a really long response that got eaten.

The summary: if you are open to non-Mexican sources (e.g. Marquez) and you want historical drama, why not find a classic Brazilian telenovela (e.g. Escrava Isaura) that has subtitles? Good production values, lots of melodrama, great costumes, can be watched episode-by-episode by all of you on any schedule you like. A fair number of both Mexican and Brazilian telenovelas were written by big-name literary writers, too.

Also, a suggestion in the previous thread -- Norma Cantu's Canicula -- is worth a look, because the episodic structure of the text might lend itself to being read in short pieces. Be aware that the English and Spanish versions are not 100% the same, so look at both.
posted by Forktine at 2:14 PM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: Seconding Arráncame la vida. It's the story of a young women in post-Revolution Mexico who marries a guy who becomes a political big shot, and how her life goes. She's an awesome character, and it also has a fair amount of criticism of nasty corrupt politics.

I'd also recommend Carlos Fuente's early work-- say Aura and La muerte de Artemio Cruz, although some of his stuff is a bit experimental. I think La muerte de Artemio Cruz might be better in Spanish, though. He also has a book of short stories that together form a novel, each of which is about Mexican-American relations, called La frontera de cristal.. It'd work well read in separate sittings, and is better than some of his other recent work.

Also consider Las batallas en el desierto by José Emilio Pacheco. It's a coming of age story set in Mexico in the 40s or 50s, I think, at the beginning of a period of economic expansion. It's also nice and short-- I'd guess under 100 pages.

Finally, for something written in English, there's Insurgent Mexico, by John Reed, the guy who wrote Ten Days that Shook the World about the Soviet Revolution. He's an American journalist who went and rode with Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution. It's a bit fawning a times, but a really remarkable narrative.
posted by matematichica at 4:44 PM on November 27, 2007

Response by poster: These are all fantastic. I already know about the big guns (um, yeah, Marquez isn't Mexican!) but these are so helpful. I think reading with her will be a great long-term project. Thank you so much!
posted by barnone at 6:04 PM on November 27, 2007

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