11 Books that Shaped the Contemporary Latin American Literary Scene in 2015

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In between working on new material and living his best life alongside Isabel Preysler – Enrique Iglesias’ age-defying mom –Mario Vargas Llosa also recently lent his name to a contest seeking to energize the Spanish-language contemporary genre.

The Premio Bienal de Novela Mario Vargas Llosa was created by the Fundación Biblitoteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes and 10 universities in September 2013 to support Latin American talent. The first award went to Spanish writer Juan Bonilla for his Prohibido entrar sin pantalones in 2014.

For the second edition,  there were 250 submissions – books that were released between January 2014 and November 2015 – according to Acento. The selection jury was originally going to narrow down the entries to 10, but this year’s selection was so good that they ended up going with 11. “There were a lot of autobiographical creative non-fiction novels, political novels, experimental novels, as well as sci-fi novels,” said Carlos Granés, assistant director of the Mario Vargas award. “We have tried to represent all these genres.”

By March 28, the jury will pick five finalists, all of whom will be one step closer to being named the winner and walking away with the $10,000 prize. All finalists will be invited to take part in the biennial’s closing ceremony at the Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología on April 21. (Saldy, MVL will not attend.)

While the awards are still some time away, here are the 11 authors who have blown the selection committee away:


Rita Indiana

Book title: La mucama de Omicunlé
Country: Dominican Republic

Rita Indiana released her first and only studio album, El Juidero, in 2010. But even if it gave her more visibility, her writing career preceded her turn as a musician. Indiana has been writing poetry since she was 14, and some of her first works were released in the late 90s.

Just like in her previous books, La mucama de Omicunlé draws from her own life, so she explores issues of identity and gender, as well as the Caribbean; she also adds in some supernatural elements. “With this novel, I am starting a series of books that take place in a Caribbean, where power is attained through certain supernatural forces,” she told Vice.

Buy it here.
Read the first chapter here.


Samanta Schweblin

Book title: Distancia de rescate
Country: Argentina

Samanta Schweblin of Buenos Aires wrote her first book, El nucleo del Disturbio, in 2002, and she followed it up with a few more critically-acclaimed short stories. After 2009’s Pájaros en la boca, in 2015, she released her first novel, Distancia de rescate.

The book looks at the way nature has been transformed right before our eyes, whether or not people realize it. It also examines the change in human nature, especially when it comes to the relationship between parents and their children.

In Distancia de rescate, Amanda and her daughter rent a house in the woods from Carla, a woman whose son, David, drinks poisoned water from a stream and loses half of his soul. At least, according to Carla. Though David is a boy, he has an unsettling voice that sounds more like a man’s than a child’s.

Buy it here.


César Aira

Book title: El Santo
Country: Argentina

66-year-old César Aira’s works have been described as both archaic and experimental. But, Aira is not one to break things down, according to Quarterly Conversation. ““The real story, which we have grown unaccustomed to, is chemically free of explanation…,” he said. “The story is always about something unexplainable. The art of narration declines as explanations are added.”

El Santo takes place in the Middle Ages and tells the story of a monk who has been dedicated to his work for the past 40 years. After performing a few miracles, the monk becomes famous around the world, but realizing that his death is imminent, he decides to retire to his native Italy. Fearful of losing their main source of revenue in Catalonia, authorities put a hit on the monk, so that his body can be preserved.

Buy it here.


Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Book title: La forma de las ruinas
Country: Colombia

Juan Gabriel Vásquez has seven novels under his belt. Recently, he described novels as an escape for both writers and readers alike. “Readers and writers read and write novels because they don’t like the world they exist in, the chaos of human survival, pain, conflict,” he said, according to El Universal. “Literature is the space where we live the lives we aren’t fortunate to have. We learn about human nature and much more complete lessons in morality.”

His 549-page novel La forma de las ruinas is part autobiographical, part investigative journalism. The book reflects on Colombia’s violent past through the deaths of Rafael Uribe (1914) and Jorge Eliécer Gaitán (1948), but it’s also about trying to move forward.

Buy the book here.
Read a preview here.


Héctor Abad

Book title: La Oculta
Country: Colombia

Medellín-born Héctor Abad Faciolince started writing before he was a teenager, but his first book, Malos Pensamientos, was published in 1991. Since then, he has become one of the most lauded contemporary authors in Colombia.

In La Oculta, which was released in 2014, the history of colonization in Antioquia is seen through the eyes of siblings Pilar, Eva, and Antonio, as well as present day, according to El Tiempo. Their ancestors lived through wars in the 19th Century, the economic crisis of 1929, and violence in the 20th Century. In the present, Pilar, Eva, and Antonio deal with plenty of threats, including a paramilitary group that is trying to take ownership of their estate. The siblings’ identities are tied to their Jericó farm.

Buy the book here.


Héctor Aguilar Camín

Book title: Adiós a los padres
Country: Mexico

Héctor Aguilar Camín examines his family’s history in Adiós a los padres. Aguilar wanted to explore how his parents’ divorce hurt their relationships with their own parents. “The story revolves around my grandfather shutting my father out of a business they were planning to start together,” he told La Tercera. “This destroys my family economically, but even more so, lowers his morale. My father is filled with doubts, and is in a state of bewilderment that he can’t snap out of.”

This is a story Aguilar has wanted to tell for more than 50 years. Among his keepsakes from his childhood, he found pages that told the history of his family.

Buy the book here.


Carlos Franz

Book title: Si te vieras con mis ojos
Country: Chile

Si te vieras con mis ojos is the fifth novel by Chilean author Carlos Franz. He was inspired to write the book after his mother, actress Miriam Thorud, gave him a biography on German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas, according to Economía y Negocios. “I always wanted to write a novel about passion and love, as things that are different and even contradictory.”

Though it deals with historical figures Rugendas, Charles Darwin, and Carmen Arriagada, it is a work of fiction. As a matter of fact, he didn’t care if the story was plausible from a historical standpoint.

Buy the book here.


Gioconda Belli

Book title: El intenso calor de la luna
Country: Nicaragua

Since beginning her career as a writer more than two decades ago, Gioconda Belli has tied the politics of Nicaragua to her writing. Her first novel was published in 1988.

El intenso calor de la luna tells the story of a woman named Emma who has sacrificed her projects to dedicate herself to her family. At 48, her children are all grown up, and her relationship with her husband is lackluster. Emma is, as the title suggests, going through menopause – something she initially thinks means is the end of her femininity.

Read a preview here.


Renato Cisneros

Book title: La distancia que nos separa
Country: Peru

Renato Cisneros has written three novels since publishing his first one in 2010. La distancia que nos separa is Cisneros’ way to get answers about his father – a Peruvian military general who died more than 20 years ago. He explores his family to understand who the man nicknamed El Gaucho really was.

“If I am able to understand who he was before I was born, maybe I can understand who I am now that he’s dead,” he wrote, according to El Comercio. For the book, he traveled to Argentina, where his father was born, trained for the military, and loved a woman.

Buy the book here.


Luis Mateo Díez

Book title: La soledad de los perdidos
Country: Spain

Luis Mateo Díez has been a member of the Real Academia since 2000. His novel Los grajos del Sochantre was adapted into a movie, El filandón, in 1984. Díez admits that his latest, La soledad de los perdidos, is not an easy read.

“‘La soledad de los perdidos’ is a difficult novel, it’s not a book that can be read in three days,” he said to Las Lecturas de Guillermo. “Well, I’m a writer who asks for a placid reader.” In the story, Ambrosio Leda has been laying low for the past 15 years in Balma, la Ciudad de Sombra. Here, citizens cannot move past the war – though, at night, it’s a different story.

Buy the book here.
Read a preview here.


Fernando Butazzoni

Book title: Las cenizas del cóndor
Country: Uruguay

Fernando Butazzoni was born in Uruguay, but he was exiled after participating in a student resistance movement against the government of Jorge Pacheco Areco. He first moved to Chile, before eventually settling in Cuba. According to a July 2015 article from El País, his novel Las cenizas del cóndor is headed to the big screen.

Las cenizas del cóndor takes place in 1974 when the Southern Cone dictatorship ravaged the area. This is how one young Uruguayan woman finds herself exiled in Chile and trying to escape on foot. Butazzoni also investigates the kidnapping and unlawful adoption of a baby.