Essential Latin American Reading

Latin America has long been a melting pot of culture and creativity. The 20th century in particular saw pioneering literature pour out of the continent and gain international recognition. This article looks at five of the most famous and enduringly influential writers to have emerged from Latin America, who embraced and re-invented the written word to create some truly unique literature.

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Jorge Luis Borges

The writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges was born in 1899, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and he grew up in the then poorer northern suburb of the city called Palermo. It was a raucous place for a young boy to grow up and its colorful population clearly influenced Borges later work. Subsequently his family lived in Switzerland and Spain, where he was schooled.

He is considered to be a surrealist, and Ficciones is a favorite work of his. It comprises of seventeen short stories which span centuries of influences from philosophy, to literature and fantasy.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Marquez is undoubtedly one of the most prominent authors of the last century; he was born in 1927 and raised by his maternal grandparents in Columbia. Although he began his working life as a journalist, he later wrote screen plays and fiction, winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982.

His novels were inspired by real life events; Love in the Time of Cholera is an unconventional yet compelling love story, which Marquez based on his parent’s fraught courtship.

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Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda was born Neftali Basoalto in Chile during 1904, he used Neruda after Jan Neruda, the Czech poet. He received a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, but as well as being a poet and author he worked in diplomacy and was active in the political sphere.

His 1924 collection, Twenty Love Poems: and a Song of Despair is considered to be one of his most emotionally charged and powerful works, with worldwide sales exceeding a million.

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Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende was born in Chile in 1942, she is a passionate advocate of women’s rights and often works as a guest lecturer in American Universities. Having been exiled from Chile in the 1980’s, she eventually married an American and is now a US citizen.

She is best known for the 1982 novel The House of Spirits, although the manuscript was initially rejected by a number of publishing houses, it has since gone on to become a best seller and film.

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Jorge Amado

Amado is a Brazilian writer who was born in 1912, his work celebrates the complexity of life in his homeland, from peasants to the bourgeoisie and includes every race. His enjoyment of colloquial language was not popular among academia for many years, but now Amado’s work is globally significant, with translations into 49 other languages.

Amado’s most published book is his 1937 Captain of the Sands, written whilst he was traveling through Latin America. It’s a gritty and brave social critique, focussing on the brutal lives led by a gang of street children surviving on their wits in Bahia Brazil.

Although Borges remains a cultural giant, his cohorts should still be considered as significant players in the 20th century blossoming of Latin American literature – so if you’re planning a South America holiday, then these literary giants should be on your reading list.

WORDS: Johnny P. Johnny is a huge fan of all things Latin America, who’s blogged frequently on these types of topics.

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