Reading in Spanish is a great way to improve your comprehension and broaden your vocabulary, and tucking into some local Argentine literature also gives you valuable insight into the country’s storied history and culture. Here are five Argentine authors you should add to your reading list.
If you haven’t already heard his name, Jorge Luis Borges (1899 to 1986) is one of the most famous names to come out of Argentina and is considered by many as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Having been an avid bookworm himself from an early age and translating Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince at the age of 9, he was destined for literary greatness. He’s most famous for his short stories and is considered one of his best works. Originally published in 1941, this collection of stories deliberates over philosophical questions about space and time and the complex nature of the world and the systems we live by. Labyrinths are a recurrent theme along with other elements of fantasy. While much of his fiction takes place in unfamiliar places, Borges makes many references to Argentina in his work. Getting through a story by Borges is no easy feat and previous knowledge of other classics such as Shakespeare and Kafka definitely helps to understand the intricacies, but the stories are short and you’ll feel good about yourself when you’re done.
According to Borges, Buenos Aires-born Silvina Ocampo (1903 to 1993) was the greatest Spanish poet of all time, which is a huge endorsement given his status in the literary world. The two were close friends and collaborated on various works together. Like Borges, Ocampo’s poems and short stories aren’t light reading by any means, dealing with dark issues. Inspired by author Lewis Carroll, a lot of her writing takes you into a fantasy world, exploring surrealist ideas such as the manipulation of space and time, memory and metamorphosis, and at times verges on the inhuman. She was once denied Argentina’s National Prize for Literature because her stories were considered “too cruel”. To give you an example, in one of her pieces, an annoying neighbor is killed by a stew made from a stuffed dead dog. Brutal stuff but you’ll find yourself wanting to read more.
Julio Cortázar (1914 to 1984) is another one of Argentina’s most celebrated writers. He also dabbled in the world of fantasy as well as being a pioneer of the genre of magic realism (fiction that portrays a realistic view of the world while adding magical elements). He was regarded as a great innovator, creative genius and rebel, pushing the boundaries of his time and adding unique twists to every plot line. Like Borges and Ocampo, he mainly wrote short stories, which are much easier to get through in Spanish than a full novel. Among his most important pieces are Final del Juego which includes gripping reads such as La Continuidad de los Parques and La Noche Boca Arriba, and his masterpiece Rayuela.
Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
You’ve probably seen the movie The Motorcyle Diaries but we bet you haven’t read the book in Spanish. If you’re not familiar with it, the book is the revolutionary Che Guevara’s most famous memoir. It traces the infamous Argentina-born Che Guevara’s travels around Latin America. His journey begins in Buenos Aires as a student doctor and his memoirs recount the personal experiences that transformed him into the revolutionary he later became. The deep social injustices and poverty he witnesses as he traveled to different parts of the continent made him bound and determined to actively fight for social change in Cuba and beyond. Unless you don’t want to spoil the plot for yourself, watching the movie in English first will give you a better understanding of the novel.
Jose Hernandez (1834 to 1886) was a journalist, poet and politician from the Buenos Aires province, who is best known for his legendary poem, Martín Fierro, one of the greatest pieces of gaucho literature of its time (a genre that typically portrayed the gaucho (Argentine cowboy) as a hero and patriot). It was published around 1872, with a sequel following in 1879, and is an epic piece of historic fiction telling the story of a gaucho. Not only is it a useful Spanish reading exercise but it also paints a picture of Argentina’s national identity at the time and the daily life of the gauchos in the rural Las Pampas (grasslands) in the surrounding provinces of Buenos Aires.
Read any other good Argentine authors whose books you’d like to recommend? Share them with us in the comments section below.