29 October 2011

Carlos Fuentes's best Latin American novels of the past and present centuries

(Photo: Ivan Garcia / AFP/Getty Images)

The Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes's top 10 lists of best Latin American novels were subjective but still worth a look for sure.

No, Bolaño was not on it. Nor were the "three or four best contemporary writers in Spanish language" he endorsed. That would be, in no order: Enrique Vila-Matas, César Aira, and Javier Marías. (I'm not sure who occupied the fourth spot. I'm almost sure it was Javier Cercas. But he was also very enthusiastic about Pedro Lemebel and Rodrigo Rey Rosa.)

The lists drawn by Fuentes were published in El País. I'm including the English titles when available.

20th century best Latin American novels:

El Aleph, Jorge Luis Borges (The Aleph)
Los pasos perdidos, Alejo Carpentier (The Lost Steps)
Rayuela, Julio Cortázar (Hopscotch)
Cien años de soledad, Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude)
Paradiso, José Lezama Lima (Paradiso)
La vida breve, Juan Carlos Onetti (A Brief Life)
Noticias del imperio, Fernando del Paso (News from the Empire)
Yo el supremo, Augusto Roa Bastos (I the Supreme)
Pedro Páramo, Juan Rulfo (Pedro Páramo)
Conversación en La Catedral, Mario Vargas Llosa (Conversation in The Cathedral)
Santa Evita, Tomás Eloy Martínez (Santa Evita)

21st century best Latin American novels:

Historia secreta de Costaguana, Juan Gabriel Vásquez (The Secret History of Costaguana)
En busca de Klingsor, Jorge Volpi (In Search of Klingsor)
Oír su voz, Arturo Fontaine
El desierto, Carlos Franz (The Absent Sea)
Las muertes paralelas, Sergio Missana
Amphitryon, Ignacio Padilla (Shadow Without a Name)
El síndrome de Ulises, Santiago Gamboa
Abril rojo, Santiago Roncagliolo (Red April)

See also: Fuentes's 1981 interview at the Paris Review. Also his recent interview (bilingual) at Literal magazine where he talked about Vlad, his latest book about vampires, and political issues in Mexico.

(via By the Firelight)


  1. Despite the obvious snub of Bolaño and the debatable oversight of Roberto Arlt's The Seven Madmen, which was probably too raw and visceral for a cultured dandy like Fuentes, I like the 20th century list of Fuentes' OK. In fact, they're all either books I've read and liked or books I'd like to read and like someday. However, the Borges title isn't really a novel (!) and I suspect that the 21st century list shows a lack of critical acumen on Fuentes' part: Abril rojo, for example, is a mediocre thriller that doesn't hold a candle to anything on the first list (or to Arlt or Bolaño, of course), and a couple of the other authors have reps as lightweights from bloggers I trust more than Fuentes when it comes to reading recommendations. Love to see these kinds of lists, though!

  2. Yeah, despite their being flawed exercises, these lists are always welcome. It could be Fuentes saw something "novel" in The Aleph. The stories probably coalesced in his mind to create a unified world of whatever. I haven't read Red April but I'll defer to your judgement on this one.

  3. I have red April, not yet read so will reserve judgement. As to the rest there's the obvious , a few I've read, & a few I own something of the writers if not that one, so as a reference point the list works to the likes of myself, a mere dabbler in Latin American Literature, but only if it's treated as a reference point, a starting block before heading out & trying other works not listed.

  4. True, Gary. These lists can shape and influence one's reading list. I know I'll be reading more from the first set.

  5. Interesting - just bought the Jorge Volpi book in a charity shop ion Friday as I thought it looked interesting - Have you read it, Rise?

  6. No I haven't, Séamus. But I'd like to read it eventually. It was said to be a direct response to magical realism.