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Wrap up Latino Books Month and head into summer with this list of Latin-American fiction titles by women in translation
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CHARLESTON, S.C. - No one knows books and gives better recommendations than librarians. That's one of our favorite things to do, and we spend a lot of time researching and reading new books and old ones to keep our recommendations fresh.
With our branches closed to the public, having those conversations is a lot more difficult. But it's not impossible! And that's why CCPL's librarians have been digging through our digital resources to build list upon list of digital recommendations.
Today's list comes from Maya Novak-Cogdell, a media generalist at Main Library. Chances are you've not read most of these, which means you have about 20 more titles for that beach reads list.
So let's get to it!
Told with gripping intensity, It Would be Night in Caracas chronicles one woman's desperate battle to survive amid the dangerous, sometimes deadly, turbulence of modern Venezuela and the lengths she must go to secure her future.
In Caracas, Venezuela, Adelaida Falcón stands over an open grave. Alone, she buries her mother-the only family she has ever known-and worries that when night falls thieves will rob the grave. Even the dead cannot find peace here.
Adelaida had a stable childhood in a prosperous Venezuela that accepted immigrants in search of a better life, where she lived with her single-mother in a humble apartment. But now? Every day she lines up for bread that will inevitably be sold out by the time she reaches the registers. Every night she tapes her windows to shut out the tear gas raining down on protesters. When looters masquerading as revolutionaries take over her apartment, Adelaida must make a series of gruesome choices in order to survive in a country disintegrating into anarchy, where citizens are increasingly pitted against each other. But just how far is she willing to go?
A bold new voice from Latin America, Karina Sainz Borgo's touching, thrilling debut is an ode to the Venezuelan people and a chilling reminder of how quickly the world we know can crumble.
The narrator of Optic Nerve is an Argentinian woman whose obsession is art. The story of her life is the story of the paintings, and painters, who matter to her. Her intimate, digressive voice guides us through a gallery of moments that have touched her.
In these pages, El Greco visits the Sistine Chapel and is appalled by Michelangelo's bodies. The mystery of Rothko's refusal to finish murals for the Seagram Building in New York is blended with the story of a hospital in which a prostitute walks the halls while the narrator's husband receives chemotherapy. Alfred de Dreux visits Géricault's workshop; Gustave Courbet's devilish seascapes incite viewers "to have sex, or to eat an apple"; Picasso organizes a cruel banquet in Rousseau's honor. . . . All of these fascinating episodes in art history interact with the narrator's life in Buenos Aires-her family and work; her loves and losses; her infatuations and disappointments. The effect is of a character refracted by environment, composed by the canvases she studies.
Seductive and capricious, Optic Nerve marks the English-language debut of a major Argentinian writer. It is a book that captures, like no other, the mysterious connections between a work of art and the person who perceives it.
Humiliation by Paulina Flores
The nine mesmerizing stories in Humiliation, translated from the Spanish by Man Booker International Prize finalist Megan McDowell, present us with a Chile we seldom see in fiction: port cities marked by poverty and brimming with plans of rebellion; apartment buildings populated by dominant mothers and voyeuristic neighbors; library steps that lead students to literature, but also into encounters with other arts-those of seduction, self-delusion, sabotage.
In these pages, a father walks through the scorching heat of Santiago's streets with his two daughters in tow. Jobless and ashamed, he takes them into a stranger's house, a place that will become the site of the greatest humiliation of his life. In an impoverished fishing town, four teenage boys try to allay their boredom during an endless summer by translating lyrics from the Smiths into Spanish using a stolen dictionary. Their dreams of fame and glory twist into a plan to steal musical instruments from a church, an obsession that prevents one of them from anticipating a devastating ending. Meanwhile a young woman goes home with a charismatic man after finding his daughter wandering lost in a public place. She soon discovers, like so many characters in this book, that fortuitous encounters can be deceptions in disguise.
Themes of pride, shame, and disgrace-small and large, personal and public-tie the stories in this collection together. Humiliation becomes revelation as we watch Paulina Flores's characters move from an age of innocence into a world of conflicting sensations.
Feebleminded by Ariana Harwicz
In Feebleminded, Harwicz drags us to the border between fascination and discomfort as she explores aspects of desire, need and dependency through the dynamics between a mother and her daughter, searching through their respective lives to find meaning and define their own relationship.
Written in a wild stream of consciousness narration in the best tradition of Virginia Woolf and Nathalie Sarraute, and embedded in a current trend of elusive violence so ingrained in contemporary Latin American fiction, Feebleminded follows the pair on a roller coaster of extreme emotions and examinations into the biographies of their own bodies where everything - from a childhood without answers to a desolate, loveless present - has been buried.
Told through brief but extremely powerful chapters, this short lyrical novel follows Die, My Love as the second part in what Harwicz has termed an 'involuntary trilogy'. An incredibly insightful interrogation on the human condition, desire and the burden of deep-rooted family mandates.
Wind that Lays Waste by Selva Almada
The Wind That Lays Waste begins in the great pause before a storm. Reverend Pearson is evangelizing across the Argentinian countryside with Leni, his teenage daughter, when their car breaks down. This act of God or fate leads them to the workshop and home of an aging mechanic called Gringo Brauer and a young boy named Tapioca.
As a long day passes, curiosity and intrigue transform into an unexpected intimacy between four people: one man who believes deeply in God, morality, and his own righteousness, and another whose life experiences have only entrenched his moral relativism and mild apathy; a quietly earnest and idealistic mechanic's assistant, and a restless, skeptical preacher's daughter. As tensions between these characters ebb and flow, beliefs are questioned and allegiances are tested, until finally the growing storm breaks over the plains.
Selva Almada's exquisitely crafted debut, with its limpid and confident prose, is profound and poetic, a tactile experience of the mountain, the sun, the squat trees, the broken cars, the sweat-stained shirts, and the destroyed lives. The Wind That Lays Waste is a philosophical, beautiful, and powerfully distinctive novel that marks the arrival in English of an author whose talent and poise are undeniable.
After the Winter by Guadalupe Nettel
"This taut, atmospheric novel is an ode to the complicated heartbreak of loving what will forever be just out of reach." -Laura van den Berg, award-winning author of The Third Hotel
Claudio's apartment faces a wall. Rising from bed, he sets his feet on the floor at the same time, to ground himself. Cecilia sits at her window, contemplating a cemetery, the radio her best companion. In parallel and entwining stories that move from Havana to Paris to New York City, no routine, no argument for the pleasures of solitude, can withstand our most human drive to find ourselves in another, and fall in love. And no depth of emotion can protect us from love's inevitable loss.
All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos
A young Argentinian woman feels her identity is in pieces. Diffident, self-critical, wary of commitment, she is condemned, or condemns herself, to repeated acts of departure, from places, parents, and lovers. Then, arriving in the southernmost region of Patagonia, she convinces herself she has found happiness, until she's caught up in the horrific murders that haunt her story.
The Dinner Guest by Gabriela Ybarra
The Dinner Guest is Gabriela Ybarra's prizewinning literary debut: a singular autobiographical novel piecing together the kidnap and murder of her grandfather by terrorists, reflecting on the personal impact of private pain and public tragedy. The story goes that in my family there's an extra dinner guest at every meal. He's invisible, but always there. He has a plate, glass, knife and fork. Every so often he appears, casts his shadow over the table, and erases one of those present. The first to vanish was my grandfather. In 1977, three terrorists broke into Gabriela Ybarra's grandfather's home, and pointed a gun at him in the shower. This was the last time his family saw him alive, and his kidnapping played out in the press, culminating in his murder.Y barra first heard the story when she was eight, but it was only after her mother's death, years later, that she felt the need to go deeper and discover more about her family's past. The Dinner Guest is a novel with the feel of documentary non-fiction. It connects two life-changing events-the very public death of Ybarra's grandfather, and the more private pain as her mother dies from cancer and Gabriela cares for her. Devastating and luminous, the book is an investigation, marking the arrival of a talented new voice in international fiction.
False Calm by María Sonia Cristoff
Part reportage, part personal essay, part travelogue, False Calm is the breakout work by Argentinian author María Sonia Cristoff. Writing against romantic portrayals of Patagonia, Cristoff returns home to chronicle the ghost towns left behind by the oil boom. In prose that showcases her sharp powers of observation, Cristoff explores Patagonia's complicated legacy through the lost stories of its people and the desolate places they inhabit.
We All Loved Cowboys by Carol Bensimon
After a falling out, Cora and Julia reunite for a long-planned road trip through Brazil. As they drive from town to town, the complications of their friendship resurface. By the end of the trip, they must decide what the future holds, in a queer, coming-of-age debut novel that has been celebrated in Brazil.
August by Romina Paula
Traveling home to rural Patagonia, a young woman grapples with herself as she makes the journey to scatter the ashes of her friend Andrea. Twenty-one-year-old Emilia might still be living, but she's jaded by her studies and discontent with her boyfriend, and apathetic toward the idea of moving on. Despite the admiration she receives for having relocated to Buenos Aires, in reality, cosmopolitanism and a career seem like empty scams. Instead, she finds her life pathetic. Once home, Emilia stays with Andrea's parents, wearing the dead girl's clothes, sleeping in her bed, and befriending her cat. Her life put on hold, she loses herself to days wondering how if what had happened--leaving an ex, leaving Patagonia, Andrea leaving her--hadn't happened. Both a reverse coming-of-age story and a tangled homecoming tale, this frank confession to a deceased confidante. A keen portrait of a young generation stagnating in an increasingly globalized Argentina, August considers the banality of life against the sudden changes that accompany death.
Forgotten Journey by Silvina Ocampo
This collection of 28 short stories, first published in 1937 and now in English translation for the first time, introduced readers to one of Argentina's most original and iconic authors. With this, her fiction debut, poet Silvina Ocampo initiated a personal, idiosyncratic exploration of the politics of memory, a theme to which she would return again and again over the course of her unconventional life and productive career.
The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers
When The Naked Woman was originally published in 1950, critics doubted a woman writer could be responsible for its shocking erotic content. Fantastic themes are juxtaposed with brutal depictions of misogyny and violence. Her first book to be translated into English, Armonía Somers will resonate with readers of Clarice Lispector, Djuna Barnes, and Leonora Carrington.
Poso Wells by Gabriela Alemán
In the squalid settlement of Poso Wells, women have been regularly disappearing but the authorities have shown little interest. When the leading presidential candidate comes to town, he and his entourage are electrocuted in a macabre, darkly hilarious accident witnessed by a throng of astonished spectators.
The sole survivor-next in line for the presidency-inexplicably disappears from sight. Gustavo Varas, a principled journalist, picks up the trail, which leads him into a violent, lawless underworld, and ultimately to a strange group of almost supernatural blind men. Bella Altamirano, a fearless local woman, is on her own crusade to pierce the settlement's code of silence, ignoring the death threats that result from her efforts. It turns out that the disappearance of the candidate and those of the women are intimately connected, and not just to a local crime wave, but to a multinational magnate's plan to plunder the country's ecologically sensitive cloud forest.
A political satire and noir thriller, laced with humor and a sci-fi twist, Poso Wells plunges its readers into dark passages where things are as uncontrolled and overheated as the lava from a smoking volcano, which is where the story ends.
The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán
Felipe and Iquela, two young friends in modern day Santiago, live in the legacy of Chile's dictatorship. Felipe prowls the streets counting dead bodies real and imagined, aspiring to a perfect number that might offer closure. Iquela and Paloma, an old acquaintance from Iquela's childhood, search for a way to reconcile their fragile lives with their parents' violent militant past. The body of Paloma's mother gets lost in transit, sending the three on a pisco-fueled journey up the cordillera as they confront the pain that stretches across generations.
In the Distance with You by Carla Guelfenbein
This Chilean literary thriller tells the story of three lives intertwined with that of an enigmatic author, whose character is inspired by the groundbreaking Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. Vera Sigall, now eighty years old, has lived a mysterious, ascetic life far from the limelight of literary circles. This powerful character has a profound effect on those around her-Daniel, an architect and her neighbor and friend, unhappy in his marriage and career; Emilia, a Franco-Chilean student who travels to Santiago to write a thesis on the elusive Vera; and Horacio, an acclaimed poet with whom Vera had a tumultuous, passionate affair in her youth.
As Daniel, Emilia, and Horacio tell their stories, they reconstruct Vera's past, and search for their own identities. Spanning from modern-day Chile to the 1950s, 60s, and through the years of the Pinochet dictatorship, In the Distance With You reveals successive mysteries and discoveries like a set of Russian nesting dolls
Cars on Fire by Mónica Ramón Ríos
"When you live in an adopted country, when you're an exile in your own body, names are simply lists that dull the reality of death."
Cars on Fire, Mónica Ramón Ríos's electric, uncompromising English-language debut, unfolds through a series of female characters-the writer, the patient, the immigrant, the professor, the student-whose identities are messy and ever-shifting. A speechwriter is employed writing for would-be dictators, but plays in a rock band as a means of protest. A failed Marxist cuts off her own head as a final poetic act. With incredible formal range, from the linear to the more free-wheeling, the real to the fantastical to the dystopic, Rios offers striking, jarring glimpses into life as a woman and an immigrant.
Set in New York City, New Jersey, and Chile's La Zona Central, the stories in Cars on Fire offer powerful remembrances to those lost to violence, and ultimately make the case for the power of art, love, and feminine desire to subvert the oppressive forces-xenophobia, neoliberalism, social hierarchies within the academic world-that shape life in Chile and the United States.