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Staff Picks: Recent Mexican Novels in Translation

Only around three percent of the books published in the U.S. each year are works in translation. This means many American readers miss out on some great reads—even from our closest Spanish-speaking neighbor.

Here are just three Mexican novelists whose work has recently been translated into English. I chose to highlight these authors because their novels gave me some of the most illuminating, unique, and fun reading experiences that I’ve had in the last few years. These authors also share a fascinating relationship with translation, working closely with their translators to sometimes edit or even add to their English editions. And, though these novels are relatively short, they pack big thematic punches.

Álvaro Enrigue

“Sudden Death” (trans. Natasha Wimmer), 2016

In the sixteenth century, the Italian painter Caravaggio and the Spanish poet Quevedo face off in a tennis match in lieu of a duel over…well, what was it exactly? In this historical fantasy, answering the question “why” includes investigating the origins of the social, political, and artistic underpinnings of the modern world. Dozens of short chapters cover events as far-flung as Cortes’ conquering of Mexico, the history of tennis, and Anne Boleyn’s execution. The fun for the reader is in fitting together the disparate historical footnotes and fictional scenes, like when it’s revealed that, in the world of the novel, Anne Boleyn’s hair was used to make a number of tennis balls. In several passages, Enrigue self-consciously considers the purpose of his peculiar novel. One answer he gives is that it offers, “illustrations of how a whole host of people can manage to understand absolutely nothing, act in an impulsive and idiotic way, and still drastically change the course of history.”

Valeria Luiselli

“Faces in the Crowd” (trans. Christina MacSweeny), 2014

A young writer in contemporary Mexico City recalls her early twenties living in New York City, where her job included tracking down forgotten Spanish-language literature for English publication. She discovers Gilberto Owen, a Mexican poet in New York during the Harlem Renaissance and soon becomes obsessed with his life and work. Lines blur as Owen begins to narrate his own story. Written in short, intimate, poetic sections, this novel considers the ghostly apparitions of other lives and the stories we tell about them. My favorite of the group.

“The Story of My Teeth” (trans. Christina MacSweeny), 2015

“The Story of My Teeth” follows self-proclaimed “best auctioneer in the world,” Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez who sells his own teeth by claiming they are the teeth of Plato, G. K. Chesterton, and Virginia Woolf, among others. Set in contemporary Mexico around the Jumex Juice factory—and actually written in collaboration with a group of Jumex factory workers—this novel is practically too strange to describe. Sections include photographs, a timeline, and hilarious scenes at auctions where beguiling stories always outsell reality.

Yuri Herrera

“Signs Preceding the End of the World” (trans. Lisa Dillman), 2015

On its surface, “Signs Preceding the End of the World” is a straightforward thriller, the story of Makina, a young woman whose sharp intelligence makes her a survivor in a rough Mexican landscape. But Makina’s journey resonates more deeply than many literary heroines. Her quest to find her brother in America is dangerous not only because she has to be smuggled into the US, but also because she is crossing borders of language, culture, and spirit.

Also check out Herrera’s, “The Transmigration of Bodies”, which just came out in English this July.

Try one out today! You can place any of these titles on hold through our Library’s catalog.

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