Books, books, books

Mexico’s shut-down has allowed me some quality reading time, offering the opportunity to catch up on some favourite Mexican authors and to research some forthcoming titles to review. There’s more to Mexico than the flu!

This year sees the twentieth anniverary of Laura Esquivel’s homage to home cuisine, Like Water For Chocolate. After her mother forbids her from marrying the man she loves Tita transfers her passion into cooking delectable dishes and finds that she has the ability to infect those that enjoy her food with the same emotions she experienced when preparing it. Since it publication in Mexico in 1989, it has been made into a film and has sold over 4.4 million copies worldwide.

Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction is a fabulous introduction to short-story writers publishing in Mexico today. Despite its size, I found this collection hard to put down. An added bonus is that it is bilingual – English and Spanish versions can be read side by side. Until recently, the only Mexican works of fiction in translation were by a handful of authors - amongst them, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz and Juan Rulfo - so this goes some way to address the balance.

Of the classics, Paz is generally acknowledged as Mexico’s foremost writer and critic. The Labyrinth of Solitude contains some wonderfully illuminating essays and reflections about Mexico, its people, their character and culture. For a literary treatment of Mexico’s more recent past, spanning nearly the whole of the twentieth century, The Years with Laura Díaz by Fuentes is an enjoyable epic read; If you are interested in the Mexican Revolution, The Old Gringo also by Fuentes, is a fictionalised account of what happened to the American journalist, Ambrose Bierce, who disappeared during the civil unrest. I was also blown away by Martín Luis Guzmán’s chilling account of a casual massacre at the hands of Pancho Villa’s right-hand man. The Carnival of Bullets is now available in English in a newly translated collection of stories by many of Mexicos most revered authors from the first half of the 20th century, Sun, Stone and Shadows. (NB The perfect companion to Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction)

Rulfo’s 1955 classic, Pedro Páramo, left a lasting impression on me and is said to have been one of the first Mexican books to foreground magic realism -- Rulfo proved a key influence on later Latin American writers like Gabriel García Márquez.

For those of you interested in graphic novels, I’m going to slip in an American title about Mexico. Jessica Abel's La Perdida is about an American girl who goes to Mexico City to ‘find herself’ but hangs out with the wrong crowd. Ernesto Priego – who often comments here and is also a poet, dj, and writer, currently resident in the UK, translated the Spanish edition and makes an appearance. He worked extensively on the character and plot development of the comic book.

Jorge Volpi is considered one of the finest fiction writers in Mexico today, and won the prestigious Joaquin Mortiz prize for In Search of Klingsor. He is only just being translated into English but a title to look out for is Season of Ash due out in the Autumn.

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea is due out later this month and is a contemporary tale about nineteen-year-old Nayeli’s quest to find the “Magnificent Seven” in order to help save her village from the drug bandidos.

Finally, for serious aficionados of Mexican fiction, Dalkey Archive Press has just brought out the new English translation of Fernando del Paso‘s colossal News From the Empire about the French conquest of Mexico and Emperor Meximilian' s troubled reign.

All of these books should be available from your local bookshops or online.