Yesterday, I published a review of Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra. I requested it from the library a few weeks ago, after participating in the Diverse Books Tag meme, started by Naz at Read Diverse Books. I was excited to participate, and pretty confident that I could find books I’d read for each category. After all, I make a deliberate effort to read diversely, and my tastes are pretty eclectic. As I read Naz’s original post, I was already making my own list in my head. I was even thinking about doing two posts, one of books I’d already read, and one for books on my TBR pile, as I got excited about sharing all the many great books I know about. Pride, as they say, goes before a fall. And I fell smack into a continent-sized hole in my reading history.
I couldn’t find a single book in my blog archives that was set in Latin America. I had a couple books about Latin American characters, or by Latin American authors, but none that took place there. But surely I had one on my embarrassingly large TBR pile that would fit the bill? I found books set in China, Cambodia, and Japan. India, Pakistan, and Lebanon were all represented. Ditto Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Definitely no shortage of books set in Canada, the United States, or Europe. But not one set anywhere in Latin America. Honestly, even Latin American authors were poorly represented. I have more books set in fictional places than I have books set in Latin America.
So I dived into the bookish Internet, and got sucked down the rabbit hole of research. I perused book lists on Goodreads, and took advantage of the ability to search books by setting on NoveList (look for this tool on your library’s databases page). I love magic realism, but I set out to look beyond the obvious options, like Gabriel Garcia Márquez or Jorge Luis Borges. So I started searching Best of Latin American literature lists from recent years, looking for more contemporary writers. My interest was piqued by César Aira’s How I Became a Nun, published in 1993, about a child who is perceived as a boy, but feels like a girl. But not ready to stop there, I kept browsing, getting drawn into lists about door-stopping historical fiction, and the popularity of child narrators in Latin American fiction. I specialized in English Romantic literature at school, and so I was particularly fascinated to read about how Romanticism came to Latin America just as many countries were gaining independence. I wanted to fill the gap I had found not just with one particular book that fit the bill, but with a wider knowledge about what I had been missing. In the end, I requested Ways of Going Home from the library, but that was really only part of the point.
In the blogging world, we tend to regard memes as fun posts, useful for taking a break from more time or labour intensive posts, like reviews. They are great for connecting with other bloggers, and discovering new ones that share your interests. This one also happened to be educational, exposing a blind spot I was completely unaware of. It was a good reminder that being a diverse reader isn’t something you are, it’s something you do, and keep doing. And apparently I needed to be reminded.
Who are your favourite Latin American authors? Please recommend some books to help me continue exploring Latin American literature! I’d be particularly interested in recommendations for books by Latin American women.