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Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world

Latin American Book Reviews

Painting If you were asked to name a few Latin American authors off the top of your head, chances are they would be names like Borges, Bolano or Garcia Marquez. Most readers have seen Latin America only through the eyes of its literary men. Isabel Allende, in her introduction to Short Stories by Latin American Women edited by Celia Correas De Zapata, writes:

Until very recently, Latin American literature was—with very few exceptions—a man's game. The world was run by men and written about by men who, consequently, wrote us, our role and our place in their world. The result was a crude patriarchal myth reinforced by separation, mutual ignorance and machismo. Only recently have women stormed the literary bastions 'en masse' and seized the right to write themselves, to define themselves.

For cosmopolitan readers who seek gender balance in their literary worldview, and for any readers exploring Latin American literature for the first time, we offer a small selection of classic and contemporary novels by a diverse group of women from countries throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean. Their reasons for writing are many, their topics and styles differ, but all have something to say; all have stories to tell us.

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Paula Nicho Cumes (Guatemala), Mi Segunda Piel (My Second Skin), circa 2004. Used with permission. Visit the National Museum of the American Indian's website at http://www.nmai.si.edu/. To see other works by Ms. Cumes or more contemporary Mayan art visit Arte Maya Tz'utuhil.


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TINISIMA
Ellen Poniatowska
Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver

Some lives are so remarkable that they can only exist as myths, the truth lost in the haze of publicity. One such life belonged to Tina Modotti. An Italian born into poverty, she eventually became the muse of, then a leading figure in, the burgeoning bohemian arts scene in Mexico in the 1920s.
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Reviewed by Andy Barnes

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NO ONE WILL SEE ME CRY
Cristina Rivera-Garza
Translated from the Spanish by Andrew Hurley

"If you had been loved, Eduardo, you would know that it is never fortunate to be loved by a woman." So says Joaquín Buitrago, protagonist of Cristina Rivera-Garza's novel No One Will See Me Cry. Whether or not Joaquín actually believes his own statement is questionable; while he has been ill-used by the women in his life …
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Reviewed by Caitlin Fehir

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HOUSE OF MIST
María Luisa Bombal

In this light but elegant Latin American novel Helga, the narrator, is a plain-looking orphan given to flights of wild imagination and a passionate love of life. At seven, while out in the abandoned bramble-filled garden searching for Prince Toad with the small golden crown, she happens upon the enchanted bear in her fairytales. He is as irritable and grouchy as any bear and though he remains abrupt, the 12-year-old Daniel nevertheless condescends to help her look for her Toad. And so he becomes her intermittent, capricious friend.
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Reviewed by Akeela Gaibie-Dawood

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SELECTED PROSE AND PROSE-POEMS
Gabriela Mistral
Translated from the Spanish by Stephen Tapscott

Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral (1889-1967) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945, and had a long and distinguished career as a poet and educator. This volume brings together work for which she is, on the whole, less famous—her prose-poems and prose.
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Reviewed by Tim Jones

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LEOPARD IN THE SUN
Laura Restrepo
Translated from the Spanish by Stephen A. Lytle

Welcome to Laura Restrepo's Colombia - a world of the barrio, the hacienda and mariachi bands. If you add drug-running and incestuous desire, you still have only a taste of what's in store in her novel Leopard in the Sun.
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Reviewed by Amanda Meale

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THE ISLAND OF ETERNAL LOVE
Daina Chaviano
Translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger

The Island of Eternal Love is four intriguing stories in one. The framing story concerns Cecilia, a woman searching for answers to the appearances of a phantom house in Miami. She is a journalist living in exile from her mother country Cuba, for which she has ambivalent feelings.
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Reviewed by Meg Merrylees

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FAMILY ALBUM
Claribel Alegría
Translated from the Spanish by Amanda Hopkinson

Family Album, by Salvadorian-Nicaraguan author, Claribel Alegría, is a slim trio of novellas that touch on the lives of three very different expatriate Latin American women. In "The Talisman," Karen's father rescues her from the abusive home of her mother and boyfriend in Florida and dumps her in an expensive convent school in California….
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Reviewed by Joyce Nickel

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THE POTBELLIED VIRGIN
Alicia Yánez Cossío
Translated from the Spanish by Amalia Gladhart

We find ourselves in a small, isolated village in the Ecuadorian Andes. For generations, the village has taken its power from two sources: First: the ongoing feud between the wealthy Benavides landowners and the disenfranchised workers of the Pando clan. Second: the divine presence of the Potbellied Virgin, a sacred statue around which the village has built a Baroque cathedral…
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Reviewed Kathleen Ambrogi



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THE THREE MARIAS
Rachel De Quieroz
Translated from the Spanish by Fred P. Ellison

Since reading this novel, I often find myself looking up at the sky trying to place the Three Marias, a constellation of three bright stars at the center of Orion. In the book the three Marias are friends at a convent boarding school in Brazil in the 1930s. Their teacher, Sister Germana, named them after the three heavenly stars because…
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Reviewed by Akeela Gaibie-Dawood

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IPHIGENIA
Teresa de la Parra
Translated from the Spanish by Bertie Acker

Iphigenia was one of the first Latin American novels to depict Venezuelan upper class women early in the twentieth century, when they were expected to have no goal other than marriage and motherhood, to accede to their role as dutiful dependents of men, and to be bound by a strict social code.
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Reviewed by Tad Deffler

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OUR LADY OF THE NIGHT
Mayra Santos-Febres

Award winning Puerto Rican novelist and poet Mayra Santos-Febres skilfully intertwines fact with imagination, poetry with prose, in her dazzling new novel, Our Lady of the Night. Based on the life and times of Isabel "La Negra" Luberza Oppenheimer, one of Puerto Rico's most famous Madams from the 1930s to the 1960s, Santos-Febres transforms this remarkable woman into an almost mythical creature.
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Reviewed by Dorothy Dudek Vinicombe

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THE WAKE
Margo Glantz
Translated from the Spanish by Andrew Hurley

It's been a few weeks since I finished The Wake and I've been thinking about the best way to write this review. How can I do justice to this book that is complex, moving and intellectually challenging?
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Reviewed by Charlotte Simpson

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INÉS OF MY SOUL
Isabel Allende
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden

In her 2006 historical novel, Inés of My Soul, Isabel Allende gives a voice to Inés Suárez, a woman history books have thus far ignored. Inés lived large in sixteenth-century South America, where she was a conquistadora and the gobernadora of Chile.
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Reviewed by Joyce Nickel

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LITTLE STAR OF BELA LUA
Luana Monteiro

A set of loosely connected short stories, this colorful collection by Brazilian author Luana Monteiro pulses with mystery and magic, all the while presenting a convincingly realistic world. When the back cover promised me tales of a miraculous fish in the desert, a river spirit, and a young woman possessed by a "lustful earth goddess," I expected…
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Reviewed by Simone Cornelisson

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ASSAULT ON PARADISE
Tatiana Lobo
Translated from the Spanish by Asa Zatz

Spanish student Pedro Albarán arrives in Costa Rica in 1700, on the run from the Spanish Inquisition and constantly looking over his shoulder lest they catch up with him. Through Pedro's eyes we see the Spanish colonial project….
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Reviewed by Charlotte Simpson

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CLARA
Luisa Valenzuela
Translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger

Clara is the debut novel of Luisa Valenzuela, who, since its publication in 1960, has gone on to become one of Argentina's most celebrated female writers. This new edition is the first to be published in English for almost twenty years, and provides a very welcome opportunity to revisit a great writer at the beginning of her career.
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Reviewed by Andy Barnes