Welcome to another edition of Read Your World. This week, I want to highlight 5 of Mexico’s most talented contemporary writers.
Despite living most of my life in America, Mexico will always be home for me. I love to read stories from all over the world, but none feel as comforting and familiar as ones set in the motherland. I’ve read many older works of Mexican literature by authors such as Juan Rulfo, Laura Esquivel, and Carlos Fuentes, but the list below focuses on more modern authors that we should all be reading and supporting.
Over the past few years, Mexico’s greatest works have slowly been exposed to the English-speaking world through translations. There certainly isn’t a shortage of contemporary Mexican writers who deserve to be known around the world, but I’ll list 5 for simplicity’s sake.
Valeria Luiselli – Faces in the Crowd
Luiselli is a Mexico City native who has lived in many countries around the world, from South Africa to South Korea and France. Her novel, Faces in the Crowd won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction. She’s an exciting new author in the international scene who demands our attention. We may as well comply lest we miss out!
In Mexico City, a young mother is writing a novel of her days as a translator living in New York. In Harlem, a translator is desperate to publish the works of Gilberto Owen, an obscure Mexican poet. And in Philadelphia, Gilberto Owen recalls his friendship with Lorca, and the young woman he saw in the windows of passing trains. Valeria Luiselli’s debut signals the arrival of a major international writer and an unexpected and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.
Yuri Herrera – Signs Preceding the End of the World
Herrera’s latest novel was a Goodreads Best Books of 2015 nominee for Fiction and has been praised widely. His upcoming novel, The Transmigration of Bodies will be published in July and has already garnered much praise.
Yuri Herrera explores the crossings and translations people make in their minds and language as they move from one country to another, especially when there’s no going back.
Traversing this lonely territory is Makina, a young woman who knows only too well how to survive in a violent, macho world. Leaving behind her life in Mexico to search for her brother, she is smuggled into the USA carrying a pair of secret messages – one from her mother and one from the Mexican underworld.
Sergio Pitol – The Art of Flight
Sergio Pitol has been around for a long time, with work dating back to the early sixties. In 2005, he received one of the most prestigious literary awards in the Spanish-speaking world — the Cervantes Prize. The Art of Flight was published just last year and is one of the first glimpses English speakers will get of Pitol’s great novel, 14 years after its original publication.
The debut work in English by Mexico’s greatest and most influential living author and winner of the Cervantes Prize (“the Spanish language Nobel”), The Art of Flight takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the world’s cultural capitals as Sergio Pitol looks back on his well-traveled life as a legendary author, translator, scholar, and diplomat.
The first work in Pitol’s “Trilogy of Memory,” The Art of Flightimaginatively blends the genres of fiction and memoir in a Borgesian swirl of contemplation and mystery, expanding our understanding and appreciation of what literature can be and what it can do.
Guadalupe Nettel – The Body Where I Was Born
This peculiar novel is Nettel’s first to be translated into English. The author has said that many of the events that take place in the novel are autobiographical, giving the work the feel of a memoir.
The novel of an unconventional childhood in the seventies by one of the most talked-about writers of new Mexican fiction.
From a psychoanalyst’s couch, the narrator looks back on her bizarre childhood—in which she was born with a birth defect into a family intent on fixing it—having somehow survived the emotional havoc she went through. And survive she did, but not unscathed. This intimate narrative echoes the voice of the narrator’s younger self, a sharp, sensitive girl keen to life’s hardships.
With bare language and smart humor, both delicate and unafraid, the narrator strings a strand of touching moments together to create a portrait of an unconventional childhood that crushed her, scarred her, mended her, tore her apart and ultimately made her whole.
Jorge Volpi – Season of Ash
Volpi is a famous novelist and essayist with a writing career going back to 1990. His work has been translated into many languages and is distinct from other Latin American literature in that it focuses topics such as history and science and may not always feature Latin American characters.
Season of Ash puts a human face on the earth-shaking events of the late twentieth century: the Chernobyl disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Soviet communism and the rise of the Russian oligarchs, the cascading collapse of developing economies, and the near-miraculous scientific advances of the Human Genome Project.
Told through the intertwined lives of three women- Irina, a Soviet biologist; Eva, a Hungarian computer scientist; and Jennifer, an American economist- this novel-of-ideas is part detective novel, part scientific investigation and part journalistic expose, with a dark, destructive love story at its center.