In the twentieth century, as far as I was concerned, the most interesting novel writing was coming from the United States. This is not to say that there was not a lot of interesting novels been written elsewhere – of course there was – but that, overall, the US had the most interesting, innovative writers. In the twentieth-first century, this has changed. There are still interesting novels coming out of the US but also there are too many formulaic books coming out, slickly written, very clever, very well written but not really pushing the boundaries. I love Paul Auster and Don DeLillo, for example, but are they saying anything new any more? No, I think the pendulum has swung and what is interesting is coming out of the Spanish-speaking world. This is something of a conceit because there may be all sorts of fascinating novels being written in Japan or China or the Arabic-speaking world, for example, of which I am entirely unaware, as they have not been translated into a language I can read.
I am going to focus on Mexico because I think a lot of interesting things are happening there, though other Latin American countries are certainly producing interesting work. Argentina and Colombia are obvious examples but, for example, according to Guillermo Parra, there is currently a boom in Venezuelan literature – I do believe there’s a sort of boom in Venezuelan literature these days, with a big variety of great writers, coming from a lot of different generations, publishing very good pieces. However, as he points out in this post, while there are a lot of interesting writers – and he gives names – not only have they not been translated into English, it is very difficult to obtain copies in Spanish even elsewhere in Latin America, let alone in Europe or North America. BTW, if you are interested in Venezuelan literature, his blog (in English) is well worth reading.
Mexico has produced several anthologies since the end of the last century which have showcased this emerging talent.
2000 Generación del 2000: literatura mexicana hacia el tercer milenio
2003 Nuevas voces de la narrativa mexicana
2004 Novísimos cuentos de la República Mexicana
2008 Grandes hits. Vol. 1, Nueva generación de narradores mexicanos
Dalkey Archive Press has produced Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction in English. El futuro no es nuestro: nueva narrativa latinoamericana covers all of Latin America, with two Mexican writers – Tryno Maldonado and Antonio Ortuño. It is now available in English. I am aware of the Los Mejores Cuentos Mexicanos, published annually by Joaquín Mortiz, but these have tended to focus on more conventional works, though there is much interesting in them as well. Similarly, Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories is an interesting collection in English but most of these stories are from an older generation, as are the stories in Una ciudad mejor que ésta. Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro is a State-supported publisher that has published many young Mexican writers. The first four above publications are an excellent start to what is going on in Mexican literature.
One writer makes the first four Mexican anthologies, though not the others. That is Alberto Chimal, whom I reviewed last week. As a short-story writer and author of two novels, he has been very successful in Mexico, though he is little known in the English-speaking world. I suspect that might change. I remember reading the Los Detectives Salvajes (The Savage Detectives) well before it was translated into English and wondering why it wasn’t better known. It is now. None of the authors in these anthologies appear in Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction, primarily because they are of an older generation, but they are still worth examining, so I will start with a quick look at them:
Àlvaro Enrigue‘s Hipotermia is now available in English, though it is short stories (microfictions) and not a novel.
Ana Garcìa Bergua has not been published in English but her Isla de bobos has been published in French.
Cristina Rivera-Garza‘s Nadie me verá llorar has been translated into English as No One Will See Me Cry.
Daniel Sada‘s Casi nunca has been translated as Almost Never.
Eduardo Antonio Parra‘s Tierra de nadie has been translated as No Man’s Land.
Fabio Morábito is a poet and short story writer. His Caja de herramientas has been translated as Toolbox.
Some of Francisco Hinojosa‘s humorous stories, many written for children, have been translated.
Guillermo Fadanelli, one of Mexico’s best writers of the urban scene, has not been translated into English though three of his books are available in French.
Some of Guillermo Samperio‘s stories have been translated as Beatle Dreams and Other Stories.
Héctor Manjarrez is another writer who has not been translated into English (apart from the story in this collection). He is better known as a writer of short stories and poetry but has written novels.
Hernán Lara Zavala is a novelist, short story writer, essayist and children’s writer, best known for his novel Península, península, set during the Caste War of Yucatán. Sadly, like others in this collection, he has not been translated into English, apart from the story in this collection.
Jorge F. Hernández edited Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories, mentioned above. He has written novels and shot stories, often in the fantasy genre.
Juan Villoro has been translated into Dutch, French, German and Italian but not English. He has written novels, short stories and books for children.
Rosa Beltrán has been translated into French but not English. She has written novels, stories and essays and was honoured by the American Association of University Women for her writings on women writers.
Vivian Abenshushan is a short story writer who has not been translated.
That gives an idea of some writers who have had at least one story translated into English. Sadly, very few of the ones in the first four anthologies have been translated. Here are some of the more interesting ones from those anthologies:
Vizania Amezcua works for a theatre group but has written the novel Una manera de morir [A Way to Die], telling the story of a woman, Antonia, writing a book called Una manera de morir [A Way to Die], who is trying to solve the mystery of a statue given to her by her boyfriend, Vincente, the only man she has ever loved, though they are now separated. The book deals with memory and nostalgia.
Bernardo Esquinca appears in three of these anthologies but nothing of his has been translated. His Los escritores invisibles [The Invisible Writers] was selected as one of the best novels of 2009 in Mexico.
Julieta García González has written a book of stories, a children’s book and a novel, Vapor, about Gracia, a very fat young woman.
Eve Gil has been influenced by manga, e.g. in her novel Tinta violeta [Violet Ink] but her other novels cover other themes. For example Cenotafio de Beatriz [Beatrice’s Cenotaph] has two parts – Paradise and Hell and Eve’s boyfriend is called Dante, though it is not a modern Divine Comedy but rather the same story told from the perspective of each one, while El suplicio de Adán [The Torture of Adam] is about the Mexican Revolution. She also has an interesting blog, wittily called All About La Eve. Her favourite books are Dracula, Wuthering Heights, the complete works of Oscar Wilde, A Good Man Is Hard to Find (Flannery O’Connor) and, the solitary Spanish-language one, Sergio Pitol’s El arte de la fuga (available in French and Chinese but not English).
Julián Herbert‘s best-known novel is Canción de tumba [Grave Song] based on his life with his mother as a child, wandering all over Mexico. She died of leukemia in 2008. He has written a book called Cocaine: A User’s Guide and played in a couple of rock bands as well as writing one other novel, poetry and stories.
Luis Felipe Lomelí has written one novel, Cuaderno de flores, about drug trafficking in Colombia.
Tryno Maldonado has written three novels – Viena roja [Red Vienna], Temporada de caza para el león negro [Hunting Season for the Black Lion], about Golo, a painter, who reads romance novels in the bath, has never read a newspaper in his life and spends his time playing video games and eating candy floss (cotton candy for the US reader) and hot dogs and any number of illegal drugs, and Teoría de las catástrofes [Catastrophe Theory] about a couple, bored with life, who get caught up with a guerilla group.
Alain-Paul Mallard is best known for his films. His book Evocación de Matthias Stimmberg was originally well over 100 pages long but he cut it and cut it again so ended up at around 40 pages.
Fabrizio Mejía Madrid has published two novels – Hombre al agua about living in Mexico City (past and present) with all its attendant horrors, including earthquakes, hurricanes and plagues, and El rencor a novel about the ruling Mexican political party.
Eduardo Montagner is an interesting writer as he has written a novel in Chipileño, a dialect of Italian spoken only by immigrants to the Chipileño region of Mexico and another novel in Spanish, dealing very explicitly with homosexuality, something that is not usually welcomed in Mexico.
Guadalupe Nettel teaches linguistics at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris but has written novels and short stories. Her first novel El Huésped [The Guest] is about a girl who is inhabited by a strange creature. She becomes a reader for an Institute for the Blind where she meets someone who shows her the mysterious underground passages in Mexico City. El cuerpo en que nací (The Body Which Which I Was Born] also deals with vision but this time a birth defect in one eye makes the protagonist feel different.
Antonio Ortuño was the only Mexican writer to make the Granta Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists but, apart from that, has not been translated into English, though he has been translated into French, Italian and Romanian. He has written two novels and two books of stories and is known for his black humour.
Eduardo Rojas Rebolledo has published two novels. His first is set in the medieval period, not the first Latin-American novel to look back rather than forward. His second is set in the nineteenth century and is about memory and friendship. It starts with the narrator having mumps and, as a result, a sharp pain in his left testicle and, soon afterwards, learning of the sudden death of his friend, who has killed himself because of a problem with his penis.
Jaime Romero Robledo, a former civil engineer and video game designer, is the author of El mundo de ocho espacios, a neuroscience fiction novel, where, in the not too distant future, we are all living in a MMORPG. He claims as his influences Orwell, Huxley, Sarduy, Calvino, Brecht, Machado de Assis, Cervantes, Dante, Arreola, Rulfo, Josefina Vicens, Usigli, Faulkner, Carroll, Pirandello, Sterne, T.S Eliot, Borges, Cortázar, García Márquez, Queneau, Papini, Saramago, Lispector, M.C. Escher and C.G. Jung.
Juan José Rodríguez has written two novels – Asesinato en una lavandería China and Mi nombre es Casablanca – both about drug trafficking in Mexico, and the associated violence, not only by the traffickers but by the State.
José Ramón Ruisánchez has taught Latin-American literature at the University of Houston and, more recently, at the Universidad Iberoamericana. His best known novel is Nada Cruel about a rivalry between two brothers, one based in Mexico, the other in the United States. He has written four other novels – Remedios Infalibles contra el hipo, Novelita de amor y poco piano, Y por qué no tenemos otro perro and Cómo dejé de ser vegetariana.
Ximena Sánchez Echenique has published three novels (none translated) – one about exile, one arranged in 23 pairs of chapters, to match the human chromosome structure, as the hero’s father is a biologist, specialising in albinism, and her first telling three interrelated stories – one about a woman who has lost her taste for the basic things of life, one about how her father, and his acquisition of two Fabergé vases and one about an apprentice jeweller a hundred years earlier.
Federico Vite‘s first novel has the interesting title of Fisuras en el continente literario [Fissures in the Literary Continent], though it is about how reality is often more bizarre than fiction in Mexico.
Socorro Venegas has written three books of stories and one novel, La noche será negra y blanca [The Night will be Black and White] about the effect on an already somewhat dysfunctional family, when the youngest son dies in an accident.
Heriberto Yépez has written novels, stories, poetry, essays and criticism. One of his collection of essays is available in English. His novels, sadly, are not. A.b.u.r.t.o is a political novel about a political assassination, Tijuana and much more. Al otro lado is about drugs but also about how the hero, Tiburón, breaks free from the drugs and sets out on strange journey with his car, his mobile phone and his dog.
I have focused on novelists or, at least, writers who have written novels. There are many writers of poetry, drama and short stories who have not written novels and who are definitely worthy of consideration I will mention just one – Cristina Rascón who has written four books of short stories, has translated Japanese poetry and a book on economics. But my interest is in the novel and this should give you a brief idea of what is happening in Mexico. Politics is, of course, key as is the drug trade but they are also delving into fantasy and science fiction, history and language, as well as the other varied topics novelists write about. There are many, many more interesting Mexican writers but information is not easy to obtain and books are even harder to obtain. I hope that some of these books will eventually appear in English.