10 Overlooked Books by Latin America’s Most Famous Authors

Lead Photo: Art by Alan López for Remezcla.
Art by Alan López for Remezcla.
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In January of 2016, Paul Elie at Vanity Fair published a history of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the iconic novel that is widely considered to have redefined Latin American literature as we know it. “Laborers read it,” Elie wrote of the novel’s eventual ubiquity. “So did housekeepers and professors—and prostitutes: the novelist Francisco Goldman recalls seeing the novel on the bedside table in a coastal bordello.”

In sum, like many major classics, virtually everyone has read them.

But your favorite Latin American and US Latino authors of past and present also have some pretty underrated deep cuts you may not be familiar with. Did you love One Hundred Years of SolitudeHouse on Mango Street, or “Ode to a Tomato”? Here’s what you should read next.

Sandra Cisneros

You Know Her For: House on Mango Street
Deep Cut: Woman Hollering Creek

Short stories are so often a concentrated version of writers’ interests, hitting on the same themes and ideas as their novels, but in much more focused hits. Cisneros’ followup book to House on Mango Street has the same focus on gender (especially femininity), the immigrant experience, and family, but is subdivided into short stories–the shortest of which is just 5 paragraphs!

Pablo Neruda

You Know Him For: His odes, the poem your tía read at your cousin’s wedding.
Deep Cut: Memoirs

You probably know Neruda as the ode guy – and while his songs in praise of socks and tomatoes are great, there’s more to him. He was also a political writer, exiled from his native Chile, and a widely known artist – rubbing shoulders with Picasso and Federico García Lorca. His Memoirs are exactly that – an account of his life, works, and friendships.

Isabel Allende

You Know Her For: House of Spirits
Deep Cut: The Stories of Eva Luna

The Stories of Eva Luna is supposed to be a collection of the stories told by the main character of one of Allende’s previous novels – you guessed it, Eva Luna (also a worthwhile read!). However, you don’t need to have necessarily read one to love the other – the short stories in this collection are Allende specials, all about love, desire, family and politics, compressed into microdoses. A standout is “Two Words,” which is a gorgeous story about the power of language and love.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

You Know Him For: 100 Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera
Deep Cut: Strange Pilgrims

Another book of short stories, plus an incredible essay on the art of writing and re-writing that serves as its introduction, Strange Pilgrims is 12 stories of Latinoamericanos in Europe, a sort of diasporic reckoning as only Gabo could tell it.

Jorge Luis Borges

You Know Him For: Ficciones
Deep Cut: Book of Imaginary Beings

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, pre-Rowling. Borges, master of surrealism and symbols, compiled this encyclopedia/field guide of mythological creatures. This isn’t necessarily a book to read from front to back, but instead to dip into – a page or two before bed or on your commute.

Roberto Bolaño

You Know Him For: 2666, The Savage Detectives
Deep Cut: Distant Star

Distant Star is a novella about war crimes and writing, set in the 1973 coup d’etat in Chile. It features a lot of the same Bolaño hits – his alter-ego Arturo Belano, feuding literary and political movements, an unraveling mystery – but ups the stakes substantially by setting it in a moment of great political upheaval, and adds skywriting and Nazis.

Laura Esquivel

You Know Her For: Like Water for Chocolate
Deep Cut: Between Two Fires

You need only read the summary of Esquivel’s classic Like Water for Chocolate to know that she’s a writer deeply concerned with how food entwines into our relationships, and Between Two Fires is like hanging out with her in her kitchen. Full of essays, stories, and recipes, this is a book to read standing up at the kitchen counter, while your trays of mole ingredients roast.

Julio Cortazar

You Know Him For: Hopscotch
Deep Cut: 62: A Model Kit

Cortazar is best known for his innovation with form – Hopscotch is basically a choose-your-own reading experience, with some chapters marked as “expendable” and others illuminating different parts of the narrative. 62: A Model Kit is equally inventive…and equally confusing. Focusing on a group of jet-setting international friends, the novel bounces around through all the major world capitals. It may be a book you have to read more than once, but the language makes it well worth it.

Cesar Aira

You Know Him For: The Hare
Deep Cuts: How I Became A Nun

Cesar Aira is 68 years old, and is the author of over 80 novellas, novels, and works of non-fiction. How I Became A Nun is one of the handful of books that have made it into English, and is less about a religious awakening, and more a deep dive into an child’s imagination, involving strawberry ice cream, cyanide poisoning, kidnapping and murder.

Valeria Luiselli

You Know Her For: Story of My Teeth
Deep Cut: Faces in the Crowd

Luiselli is certainly more of an up and coming author than a literary giant. But her star has only continued to rise since her first book, Sidewalks, was published – reaching a fever pitch with the publication of her latest novel, Story of my Teeth. The book between those two, Faces in the Crowd, is a strange, layered novel about riding the New York City subway and the ghosts that haunt cities.