The Labyrinth of Solitude and other writings
Mexico's foremost writer and critic, Octavio Paz, is a classic and a must for those who have never read about Mexico. A poet, diplomat and 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature winner, Paz wrote The Labyrinth of Solitude in 1950. It's a long form essay on Mexican identity that explores Mexico's indigenous and Hispanic roots and the country's heavy colonial past, its relationship to death, philosophy, and ultimately, its solitude.
First first published in Mexico in 1955, this slim novel at first had a cool critical reception, but later became known as canonical amidst Latin American literature and one of Gabriel García Márquez's most important inspirations. "The work of Juan Rulfo is not only the highest expression which the Mexican novel has attained until now: through Pedro Paramo we can find the thread that leads us to the new Latin American novel," said Carlos Fuentes. Set in post-revolutionary early 20th-century Mexico, in a rural south populated by ghost villages, it is the haunted and tragic tale of Pedro Paramo and his town, in which the dead are all still living.
Nostalgia for Death and Heiroglyphs of Desire
Xavier Villaurrutia was one of the very few Latin American writers in the first half of the 20th century who was openly homosexual. He was an important Mexican poet who wrote, essentially, one book, Nostalgia for Death, translated here for the first time by Eliot Weinberger. As 1990 Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz makes clear in his book-length study, Hieroglyphs of Desire (translated by Esther Allen), Villaurrutia is a major poet of desire whose beloved is the death we live each day.
If I keep you imprisoned,
and caress you and hide you;
if I feed you in the depths
of my most intimate wound,
if my death gives you your life
and my frenzy such delights,
what will become of you, Death,
when, when I must leave this world,
untying this tangled knot,
you too will have to leave me?
Excerpt from "Death in Decimas"
Contemporary Mexico is depicted in this collection of short stories by Juan Villoro, one of the country's best known journalists and authors. Hilarious, about serious subjects, stories run the gamut from the semiotics of pet iguanas to the disillusionment of mariachi singers. These are tales of absurdity and frustration with life in Mexico, but in one story, "Amigos Mexicanos", he also underlines the American perception of Mexico. Villoro knows the US well, and his stories will help readers develop a far wider-ranging view of the country than what is portrayed in the news in the US today. Translated by Kimi Traube.
Roberto Bolaño described Carmen Boullosa as "Mexico's greatest woman writer." Loosely based on the little-known 1859 Mexican invasion of the United States, Texas: The Great Theft, is a richly imagined evocation of the volatile Tex-Mex borderland, wrested from Mexico in 1848. Boullosa views the border history through distinctly Mexican eyes, and her sympathetic portrayal of each of her wildly diverse characters—Mexican ranchers and Texas Rangers, Comanches and cowboys, German socialists and runaway slaves, Southern belles and dance hall girls—makes her storytelling tremendously powerful and absorbing. Translated by Samantha Schnee.
Signs Preceding the End of the World
Yuri Herrera's acclaimed novel, Signs Preceding the End of the World, follows Makina, a discreet and street smart young woman, who decides to leave her life in Mexico behind and travel north across the border, to look for her brother who she hasn't seen in several years. As the translator, Lisa Dillman, writes in her notes, the novel deals with major contemporary issues of “migration, immigration (and two of its stomach-churning corollaries, so-called nativism and profiling), transnationalism, transculturalism, and language hybridity—not to mention, of course, the end of the world.”
The Body Where I Was Born
In her autobiographical novel, Guadalupe Nettel's starting point is a complicated eye condition that leaves one eye nearly blind, which sets her apart and allows her to observe and perceive in a particular manner. Growing up in Mexico City and France during the 1970s and 80s Nettel's character examines her baby-boomer parents as they head towards divorce, her own adolescence, Mexican and French society, all with biting humor and intelligence. Translated by J.T. Lichtenstein
A Zero-Sum Game
Eduardo Rabasa, the successful founding editorial director of the Mexico City-based indie publishing company, Sexto Piso, has written a satirical political fantasy set in the present. Within today's consumer society, citizens face corruption and power, empowerment and helplessness. Translated by Christina MacSweeney
The Story of My Teeth
Gustavo 'Highway' Sanchez is a man with a mission: he is planning to replace every last one of his unsightly teeth. In his quest for a perfect set of pearly whites, he finds unusual ways to raise the funds, culminating in the sale of the jewels of his collection: the teeth of the 'notorious infamous' : Plato, Petrarch, Chesterton, Virginia Woolf and others. Valeria Luiselli takes us on an idiosyncratic and hugely enjoyable journey that offers an insightful meditation on value, worth and creation, and the points at which they overlap. Translated by Christina MacSweeney.