How Much do you Know About Latin American Literature? Guest Post by Gustavo Silva

How much do you know about Latin-American literature?I wouldn’t be surprise if you knew more than average (after all, this is a book’s fans site), but let’s suppose you don’t and you ask me for a good book to start on the subject.

Were that the case, I would certainly suggest you the book that Latin-American writers prefer. It’s the book that most impressed “El Gabo”.  

Thirty years before winning the Nobel Prize, Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez (“El Gabo”) was living the life of the unpublished author in Mexico City when his close friend Alvaro Mutis (now also a famous author) gave him a book and said “Tenga para que aprenda a escribir” (liberal translation: Read this and learn how to write).

The book was “Pedro Paramo”, written by Mexican author Juan Rulfo.

Today the book is considered a Latin-American classic and it’s one of my all time favorites. Rulfo used popular slang for filling the dialogues with colors, but he did it masterly, placing sentences so well that turned his prose into poetry.

Because of this, some scholars argued that reading the book translated to other language would lack the author’s mastery.

I would have agreed with that until lately when -following this blog’s suggestion- I started to read McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. I like reading this book (I haven’t finished it yet), but by reading it, I realized why I like Pedro Paramo so much.

I know now that the book is much more than words masterly placed.

Similarities? Not much; except for the fact that their story is placed in almost the same scenes, chronologically and geographically. Their style is very different, and Blood Meridian is far more cruel and descriptive.

But they both managed to tune the readers’ mood powerfully and put them face to face with violence in a dispassionate way. They both have a villain as one of their main characters. In the Mexican novel the bad guy is Pedro Paramo himself.

Different from McCarthy’s novel, Pedro Paramo presents a challenge for the reader. The story is not lineal and only pieces of the puzzle are given gradually. The story only starts to make sense once the reader discovers one important fact around the first quarter of the book.

In spite of the scholars’ opinions, Pedro Paramo has been translated to more than 30 different languages and the English version has been sold more than a million times in the US.

About the author:
Gustavo is a professional marine researcher and family man. He shares cartoons and what he has learned about exploring in exchange of smart conversations. If you want to know the whole story, click here.

8 thoughts on “How Much do you Know About Latin American Literature? Guest Post by Gustavo Silva

  1. Gustavo, I now want to check this book out. Would you recommend the Spanish version? My Spanish is…okay. Is the writing at all like McCarthy’s? Like on that level? I struggled with some portions of Blood Meridian, even reading it in English (my native language). I have just the smallest level of experience reading in “foreign languages” (mostly Italian, some Spanish). I find it rewarding, but challenging and also time-consuming. Would there be value in reading Pedro Paramo in English, or is the real value in the original Spanish text?

    • I am very glad that you decided to check it. I don’t think it’s real value is lost in the English version but, you might lose part of the author’s style.
      McCarthy’s challenge is found in intricate words, in their meaning and usage – He made me buy another dictionary ‘cause the kindle’s didn’t have half of the meanings. Rulfo, instead, uses Mexican slang liberally and I guess that could be a problem since a dictionary might not help.
      Given that you are not familiar with Mexican culture, I would recommend the Spanish version, if you don’t mind some small “guessing within the context”.

  2. Despite your generous presumptions in the first paragraph of your post, I think the only Latin-American authors I have read are Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (and of his, only Love in the Time of Cholera, which I must confess I’m not sure I really “got it”). I would be very happy to receive any other recommendations.

    • Both authors are great and among my favorites, but they belong to the same wing of the Latin American literature: “magic realism”. You might want to try some of the other two vertexes of the triangle:” the realistic” and “the fantastic”. For the former, I would recommend “la ciudad y los perros” by Vargas LLosa; and for the later: “Historia Universal de la Infamia” by Borges.

  3. Gustavo,

    I read books and forget them almost as fast, but I remember one that I know was magic about a lady whose feelings showed up in her cooking because of her love for a man she doesn’t get until too late. Was that Water for Chocolate? I know I read another one about a little girl, but I don’t remember much of that one. I also read a mystery by an author whose work I see occasionally. It was a good enough story for me to remember his name when I run across him.

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