Beyond Borges: 11 Must-Reads for Hispanic Heritage Month
The Spanish-speaking world has always been a major contributor to literature since Don Quixote, and with classic authors like Jorge Luis Borges to rising stars like Junot Diaz or Valeria Luiselli, Hispanic lit continues to offer a wide range of rich, vibrant writing across genres.
- •Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo CrucetThis debut novel was long-listed for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize in 2015, and named a best novel of the year by many different publications. Lizet finds the environment of Rawlings College strikingly unfamiliar — suddenly aware of her immigrant heritage and outsider status. A trip home for Thanksgiving drags her into a sensational immigration battle as her family becomes entangled with the case of a boy whose mother died as they fled Cuba.
- •Shadowshaper by Daniel José OlderThis fantasy/mystery novel follows Sierra Santiago, a young artist whose plans for a casual summer are interrupted by a murder — and then the discovery of her ability as a ‘shadowshaper’: she can infuse ancestral spirits into paintings, stories, and songs. Unfortunately, a killer may be hunting shadowshapers. Older recently announced that two sequels to Shadowshaper are planned, so this story is just getting started.
- •Before by Carmen BoullosaIn Before, a young woman returns to her childhood home to face her painful past. A combination of a ghost story and a bildungsroman, comparable to Angela Carter in its weirdness and eerie quality, Boullosa writes beautifully about the end of innocence and growth into womanhood. The prose is lovely, creating imagery as vivid as memory.
- •The Story of My Teeth by Valeria LuiselliThis unique, experimental work by one of Mexico’s rising literary writers follows the character of Highway, a collector and auctioneer of the bizarre. The Story of My Teeth originated as part of an art exhibition, and was written serially in collaboration with workers at a Jumex juice factory. Fun, strange, and startling, Luiselli upholds the importance of storytelling, and explores both oral and written traditions.
- •Half the World in Light by Juan Felipe HerreraJuan Felipe Herrera is the Poet Laureate of the United States. Like much of his work his most recent collection of poetry explores his experience as a Chicano in the US and Latin America over his life, and charts his development as a poet and writer. As a poet, Herrera is highly influenced by his work as a campesino, and Half the World in Light demonstrates his experimental, unique style to great effect.
- •The Savage Detectives by Roberto BolañoThe Savage Detectives was the novel that established Roberto Bolaño’s reputation internationally. A Don Quixote-esque journey of two literary exiles, it is rife with references to Latin American literature. The non-linear story follows a journey in search of a missing poet, the founder of a fictional literary movement. The second part of the novel shows the two poets through the eyes of numerous observers around the world, from Israel to West Africa, building a large and rich cast of characters.
- •A House of My Own by Sandra CisnerosSandra Cisneros is most known for her novel The House on Mango Street, but all of her work is excellent. This book, winner of the PEN Center USA 2016 Literary Award for creative nonfiction, is a compilation of nonfiction pieces and autobiographical stories that come together to form a portrait of a literary legend. Including three decades of work, including some never published before, Cisneros brings together the personal, the political, and the literary in a single volume.
- •The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina HenriquezThe Riveras leave their comfortable life in Mexico for the United States after their fifteen-year-old daughter suffers a traumatic brain injury. Once there, a relationship begins to develop between the daughter, Maribel Rivera, and her neighbor Mayor Toro. Henriquez weaves together the stories of two families, young love, and the experience of these “unknown Americans”.
- •We the Animals by Justin TorresNarrated by the youngest son of three children in upstate New York whose father is Puerto Rican, We the Animals consists of a series of vignettes portraying boyhood and growing up, and the complicated relationships between siblings and family members. While the book is quite short — 144 pages — Torres packs a lot of emotion into few words.
- •A Legend of the Future by Augustin de RojasThis first English translation of a novel by the father of Cuban science fiction is the story of an expedition to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Back on Earth, apocalyptic war wages between superpowers, while in space, the crew is tested by the rigors of exploration and their long journey. After disaster strikes, they get sucked into an experiment in reconditioning and ideological indoctrination — but may sacrifice their humanity in the process. A must-read of science fiction.
- •The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri HerreraA novel tinged with echoes of Romeo and Juliet as well as touches of the violence in contemporary Mexico, Yuri Herrera’s most recent work is both a tragedy and a noir. In a city torn apart by feuding families and emptied by plague, one man known only as the Redeemer ventures out to seek to broker a peace for the return of dead bodies being held hostage. A little bit post-apocalyptic Mad Max and a little bit Raymond Chandler, this relatively short book is tightly written and thrilling to read.