2016 in Books: 15 Must-Reads From Latin American and Latino Authors

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The last few years have been fantastic for works translated into English from writers all over Latin America. Between Valeria Luiselli, Alejandro Zambra, and the resurgence of Roberto Bolaño, there hasn’t been a better time to find new authors from Latin America. 2016 is no exception. Laia Jufresa, Álvaro Enrigue, and Daniel Saldaña Paris all had big first-time English releases this year after gaining followings abroad.

Not only that, but the ability of small presses to take risks on new authors, the current publishing-industry interest in translation, and the discoverability of rad Latinx poets and writers on Twitter, Tumblr, and the rest of the internet means that we’re in a golden age for finding incredible new writers.

The list below is 15 of the best books published in the U.S. by Latinx writers this year — it includes books in translation (so many books in translation!) Latin-American writers, and a lot of debut authors. A problem inherent in lists like these mean that not every book can be on it — although having too many great Latinx-penned books is not a bad problem to have.

If you didn’t catch these this year, make sure to add them to your reading list.


Umami by Laia Jufresa, trans. Sophie Hughes (OneWorld)

This book was one of my favorites this year. Set in Mexico City, where Jufresa lives, it focuses on a group of neighbors that all live in houses named after flavors—Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter, and, of course, Umami—and is about the loss and light in each of their lives. I cried a bunch of times while reading this book—it’s not shy about emotional gut-punches, but they never feel cheap or hollow.


Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera (Riverdale Avenue Books)

A sweet, expansive YA novel about growing up queer and Boricua in the Bronx, navigating the waters of white feminism, and, of course, falling in love. As a bonus, Gabby Rivera was just tapped to write the new America Chavez series for Marvel, so we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in 2017!


Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue, trans. Natasha Wimmer (Riverhead)

I needed an open Wikipedia window to read this book, rife as it is with references and historical figures, but it was so, so worth it. The book takes the form of a 16th century tennis match between poet Francisco de Quevedo and painter Carvaggio, with a supporting cast featuring Cortés, La Malinche, Galileo, and a lot of popes. A truly weird and colorful alt-history that centers the importance of Latinx culture in history.


Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra, trans. Megan McDowell (Penguin)

Not quite a novel, not quite an essay, not quite an actual test, Zambra’s book is formatted like a multiple-choice test. The book deals with memory, both personal and national, surrounding the history of dictatorships in Chile. It’s a book that, much like a multiple-choice test, you can skim in 30 minutes, or spend 3 hours with, checking your answers.


Bruja by Wendy C. Ortiz (Civil Coping Mechanisms)

This book takes the form of a “dreamoir”—a journey through the author’s subconscious. Like dreams themselves, it is made up of fragments and images that thread through its pages, circling around preoccupations of adulthood, of magic, of cats.


The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island by Kathleen Alcalá (University of Washington Press)

Alcalá takes the local food movement, so long the province of hippy gringos, and brings it home to the immigrant communities for whom it has so long been a fact of life. She talks to neighbors and friends, including survivors of Japanese internment and a Suquamish elder familiar with the history of food on Bainbridge island, all while drawing inspiration from her own Mexican immigrant parents who lived through the Depression.


Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera, trans. Lisa Dillman (And Other Stories)

Yuri Herrera’s novels always feel half-lit and dangerous. Transmigration of Bodies is about a tough guy, sent out into a plague-infested city on a key mission — to reconcile feuding families. A little noir detective-y, a little cowboy movie, all atmospheric and creepy. (Side note: his translator, Lisa Dillman’s essays about her process are extra-fun for Spanish speakers, and show what goes into translating any one of these novels.)


Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña Paris (Coffee House Press)

I’m not going to lie — Saldaña Paris’s novel didn’t immediately intrigue me. A story about a slacker living in Mexico City who finds himself, through sheer passivity, married to a coworker he hates is not quite my thing. But by the end of the book, when you’ve added in a poet/mystic lost at sea, time travel, and a dusty little college town, I was totally hooked.


The Princess and the Warrior by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams)

Duncan Tonatiuh’s stylized art is immediately recognizable by anyone who’s ever looked at a codex. Here, in a perfect blend of text and art, he tells the legend of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl (shortened to Popoca and Itza for younger readers), the two volcanoes surrounding Mexico City.


In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero with Michelle Burford (Henry Holt & Co.)

Guerrero, who is best known for playing Maritza on Orange Is the New Black, tells the story of her parents’ deportation. Guerrero’s style is easy and conversational, but her story is vulnerably told. While Guerrero’s book was already an important, not-often-heard narrative when it was published this summer, it has taken on additional significance post-election.


Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vazquez, trans. Ann McLean (Riverhead)

With echoes of Kazuo Ishiguro, Reputations is the story of a legendary Colombian political cartoonist who suddenly finds himself having to confront his legacy—not just as a political figure, but in his personal life as well.


Sad Girl Poems by Christopher Soto (Sibling Rivalry Press)

Christopher Soto is a rising star in poetry, and after making their name with all kinds of projects — the Undocupoets Campaign, to protest against citizenship discrimination in the lit world, and Nepantla journal. Their first book, Sad Girl Poems, is a fantastic extension of this work, immersed in themes of family and queerness.


The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales (Riverhead)

Super-fun, action-packed, crazy sci-fi about a group of female assassins whose job it is to keep the world safe from evil, and what happens when that group comes under attack itself. Filled with fight-scenes and badass teen girls, this book is a total pleasure ride.


Save Twilight by Julio Cortázar, trans. Stephen Kessler (City Lights)

This recent re-release of an old master isn’t technically a new release, but a) pocket size poetry is always a delight, and b) this particular edition has a ton of new material, including essays, poems, and sketches. If you’re trying to get into Cortázar, this isn’t a bad place to start.


I’ll Sell You a Dog by Juan Pablo Villalobos trans. Rosalind Harvey (Coffee House Press)

Villalobos has been known for a few years now as a weird, irreverent writer — Quesadillas involves Greek myth, the devaluation of the peso, and alien abductions. I’ll Sell You A Dog is about a retiree best known for his “gringo dog” tacos, and staying sharp in retirement through cultivating a nemesis.