Hurricane Season

An image from the 2023 film adaptation of Fernanda Melchor's Hurricane Season, directed by Elisa Miller

12 of the best Booker-nominated books by Latin American authors

With four books by Latin American authors on this year’s International Booker Prize longlist, here are a dozen more from the region for your TBR pile

Written by Emily Facoory

Publication date and time: Published

When last year’s Booker Prize longlist was announced, many people observed that having four Irish writers on the list must mean that Ireland is experiencing a new literary golden age. But when the prize’s eventual winner Paul Lynch was asked why Ireland seemed to be producing the best writers, he answered: ‘Can I let you into a secret? I think the South Americans have the best writers. I think the South Americans have been producing metaphysical writing of an extraordinary calibre for the last 60 or 70 years.’

With four writers from Latin America longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2024 – representing Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil and Peru – it seems that Lynch has a point. When the longlist was announced, Fiammetta Rocco, Administrator of the International Booker Prize, observed that the inclusion of Itamar Vieira Junior, Rodrigo Blanco Calderón, Selva Almada and Gabriela Wiener on the list has signalled ‘a second boom’ in Latin American fiction. 

But while we would urge you to pick up the four Latin American titles on this year’s longlist – Crooked PlowSimpatíaNot a River and Undiscovered – as well as the nine other nominated books from around the world, we’d also like to remind you that great fiction from Latin America has been celebrated by the Booker Prizes for years. So if you’re looking to immerse yourself in the best writing from the region, we highly recommend the following 12 books.

Érica Rivas as Rita in Elena Knows, directed by acclaimed Argentinean filmmaker Anahí Berneri
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes

Mexican author Fernanda Melchor has been nominated twice for the International Booker Prize, once in 2020 for Paradais and again in 2022 for her novel Hurricane Season. Inspired by a report Melchor read in a newspaper, the latter is a tragic story which takes place in a rural Mexican town where poverty, violence, gossip and superstition are rife. After a woman known locally as ‘the witch’ is found dead in a canal, a meandering and complex investigation begins to unravel the strange circumstances behind her murder. Each chapter is presented from the perspective of a different character, whose personal stories and motivations help piece together the novel’s central puzzle. A critical and commercial success, Hurricane Season was made into a Netflix film in 2023.

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Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro, translated by Frances Riddle

After her daughter Rita is found dead in the bell tower of the church she used to attend, Elena is determined to find out what really happened, after the investigation is swiftly and unsatisfactorily closed down by the authorities. But Elena’s efforts to uncover the truth, which she believes lies on the other side of Buenos Aires, are hampered by her debilitating Parkinson’s, a condition that severely limits her progress. While on the surface a short and gripping mystery, the novel also explores many topical issues, including women’s autonomy over their own bodies in a deeply Catholic society, the complexity of mother and daughter relationships, and the challenges of ageing and disability. Well known for her bestselling crime novels, Piñeiro, who has been described as ‘the Hitchcock of the River Plate’, is the third most translated Argentinian author after Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar. Elena Knows was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2022 and, like Hurricane Season, was adapted as a Netflix film in 2023.

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Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Rosalind Harvey

Mexican-born Guadalupe Nettel’s Still Born, which was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2023, follows two friends in their mid-thirties, Alina and Laura, who had both previously been unsure if they ever wanted children. Living a career-driven and independent life, Alina has a change of heart and becomes pregnant, but the pregnancy doesn’t go to plan and unforeseen challenges arise. Laura, meanwhile, has decided to get her tubes tied, but maternal instincts kick in after she forms an attachment to her neighbour’s son. The International Booker Prize 2023 judges described Still Born as having, ‘a twisty, enveloping plot, with the novel posing some of the knottiest questions about freedom, disability, and dependence – all in language so blunt it burns.’

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The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zeran, translated by Sophie Hughes

Zeran’s debut novel, shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2019, follows a young trio on a unique, pisco-fuelled Chilean road trip in a hearse. The cross-country journey begins in Zeran’s home city of Santiago, after the end of the Pinochet era. As second-generation children of those who fought against the dictatorship, the trio each have their own past traumas to face. Felipe is constantly searching for dead bodies, Iquela isolates herself at home and Paloma is grief-stricken as she tries to bring her mother’s body back to Chile from Germany to be buried. Exploring the guilt and pain passed down from parents, The Remainder takes a look at the violence and terror that haunts a nation. The International Booker Prize judges called it ‘a lyrical evocation of Chile’s lost generation, trying ever more desperately to escape their parents’ political shadow’.

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The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez, translated by Megan McDowell

Set in contemporary urban Argentina, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is a collection of macabre short stories that feature an array of frankly unhinged characters, from homeless ghosts to sinister witches. But beyond the supernatural, Enriquez’s chilling stories also highlight the social and political problems of her home country, not least the military dictatorship that gripped Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2021, Enriquez is part of the ‘new Argentine narrative’ – a group of Argentinian writers whose work is in response to the fallout from their country’s oppressive past. Nicknamed the Argentinian Mary Shelley, Enriquez is known for her disturbing, gothic and memorably visceral prose. In the New York Review of Books, Francine Prose wrote: ‘Mariana Enriquez’s fiction is haunted by the specter of late-twentieth-century Latin American history. Yet because the fiction is so alive, the experience of being in her world is enjoyable.’

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Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

A family of four, two oral historians and their children, drive from New York to Arizona, visiting parts of the United States that were ‘once Mexico’. The father wants to record a sound documentary about the lost tribes of the Apache, while the mother wants to help find out more information about her friend Manuela’s daughters, who have become lost after trying to cross the Mexican border, seeking asylum. Based loosely on a road trip the author herself took with her family in 2014, and featuring elements of both autofiction and magical realism, the book was described in the White Review as ‘a road-trip narrative, but also an anti-road trip one, countering the horizontal, East-West trajectory of manifest destiny with the vertical migration from the Global South to the richer, industrialised North’. Luiselli was born in Mexico City and now lives in New York. Lost Children Archive was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2019.

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The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, translated by Anne McLean

Hailing from Bogotá, Colombia, author Juan Gabriel Vásquez inserts himself directly into his novel, as he becomes the protagonist investigating the assassinations of two Columbian political figures. Sucked into the past after befriending a conspiracy theorist, Carlos Carballo, Vásquez is persuaded to write a book exploring the killings. According to NPR, ‘In McLean’s English iteration, The Shape of the Ruins moves forward with gravitational pull. Move with it. The novel’s many fake-outs, its resets and restarts, are worthwhile. They lead to the right place, and one that’s impossible to anticipate, but feels inevitable the second it arrives.’ Filled with truths, lies and historical secrets that blur the lines between fact and fiction, The Shape of the Ruins was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2019.

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Phenotypes by Paulo Scott, translated by Daniel Hahn

Phenotypes tells the story of two mixed-race brothers, Federico and Lorenço, in Scott’s own hometown of Porte Alegre in southern Brazil. Federico is lighter-skinned and has dedicated his life to racial justice, while Lorenço is dark-skinned and is a father to a rebellious teenage daughter. Federico is part of a government commission in the capital, Brasilia, which sets racial quotas at higher educational institutions. But he is called home when his niece ends up in prison after obtaining a gun. Longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2022, the novel explores racial identity politics in Brazil, highlighting the social inequality, classism and racial discrimination that exists in the country. According to the New York Times, the novel ‘punctures the country’s fantasy of being a post-racial state and leaves readers scrambling for a sense of closure that it cannot possibly provide’.

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Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell

Originally from Buenos Aires, Schweblin has been nominated for the International Booker Prize three times – she was shortlisted in 2017 for her debut, Fever Dream, and longlisted in 2019 and 2020 for Mouthful of Birds and Little Eyes respectively. Fever Dream begins with Amanda, who is lying in a hospital bed on the brink of death. Sitting beside her is a precocious child called David, who is asking her questions about worms, and helping Amanda piece together the events that have led her to her current state. Schweblin drew inspiration for the novel from reports of pesticides contaminating the water supply throughout Argentina. In the Guardian, Chris Power wrote: ‘The way Fever Dream is written invests every scene with suspense…. Its events play out somewhere between fears about GM crops (Argentina is one of the world’s leading producers) and folk superstition.’

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Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, translated by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff

Set in the French countryside, Die, My Love, the raw and unflinching debut novel by Argentina-born Ariana Harwicz, focuses on a struggling mother who is plagued by mental illness as she tries to cope with taking care of her infant son. Her inner monologue conveys dark and disturbing thoughts, and it is never quite certain what is real and what is imagined by the narrator. In the New Yorker, Rumaan Alam wrote: ‘The author’s accomplishment here is conjuring not a mother struggling to be good but a woman struggling not to be bad. The narrator’s infant son is not an antagonist so much as he is a symptom of her state of mind.’ Longlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2018, this unsettling and often deeply uncomfortable novel shows a woman teetering on the brink of reality.

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The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, translated by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre

Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2020The Adventures of China Iron follows the journey of the titular character who sets off in a wagon across the pampas after her husband is conscripted. Accompanying China is her new-found friend, turned lover, Liz, a Scottish woman who is trying to find her husband. Their adventures take them through the lush Argentinian landscape as Liz educates a teenage China on the British Empire and its thirst for colonisation. Inspired by 19th-century gaucho poem, Martín Fierro, Argentinian author Cámara explores one of its overlooked female characters and gives her the lead role. According to the Guardian, ‘The Adventures of China Iron sets British industry and Argentine expansion against the sisterhood of the wagon and an indigenous society of fluid genders and magic mushrooms.’

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Trust by Hernan Diaz

Born in Argentina, raised in Sweden and now living in New York, Diaz was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2022 for Trust, his second novel, which also won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2022 by the New York Times and the Washington Post. The novel tells the story of famed Wall Street tycoon, Benjamin Rask and his wife Helen, the daughter of eccentric aristocrats, as they amass their incredible fortune during the Great Depression. A story within a story, the novel consists of four different layers, each providing the reader with a puzzle to solve. The Booker judges said that ‘there is a dazzling intelligence behind this novel, which challenges us to rethink everything we know both about the institutions on which nations are built and the narratives by which stories are told. Sly, sophisticated, insistently questioning, Diaz writes with assurance, determined to rob us of every certainty.’

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