Let’s take advantage of Hispanic Heritage Month – held every year from September 15 to October 15 – to recommend some of the finer works of fiction by Latin and Spanish authors. This year we have special reason to celebrate, with a new book by Mario Vargas Llosa in the stores this week, and recent outstanding works published by Junot Diaz and the late Roberto Bolaño. 2007 also marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the greatest novel in Spanish (and perhaps any language) of our era. Each of the dozen titles below is a remarkable book – either a celebrated classic or a recent work that seems likely to stand the test of time.
THE FEAST OF THE GOAT by Mario Vargas Llosa: This gripping historical novel may be Llosa’s finest effort. The novel traces the journey of Urania Cabral, who returns to the Dominican Republic, after several decades in the United States, to confront the legacy of the brutal dictator Rafael Trujillo. Llosa reconstructs Trujillo’s corrupt reign and assassination through a series of flashbacks and dramatic scenes, drawing both on Cabral’s recollections as well as the perspectives of more than a dozen other historical figures. The Trujillo reign has inspired various authors (most recently Junot Diaz who uses it as a springboard for his The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), but none has handled the subject as deftly as Llosa. He shows how the savagery of a single individual spreads outward, poisoning first his immediate collaborators, but ultimately debasing an entire society.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel García Márquez: For more than a half century, Florentino Ariza has waited for the woman of his dreams. Alas, Fermina Daza forgot about him long ago, and has happily settled into married life with a wealthy doctor. But when her husband dies, the old lady finds herself besieged again by the suitor of her youth. Marquez made his name with the magical trappings and shifting cast of characters of his epic works, but this poised novel focuses on a single grand passion presented in starkly realistic terms. His account of a hero who aims to end his fifty years of solitude ranks as one of the great love novels of recent decades.
THREE EXEMPLARY NOVELS by Miguel de Unamuno: Unamuno, one of the leading Spanish intellects of the early 20th century, is too little read today. He is best remembered for his 1913 philosophical study The Tragic Sense of Life, a deep and passionate work in an existential vein. But Unamuno’s Three Exemplary Novels from 1920 brings these same concerns into the realm of fiction in a trio of short works. Unamuno is a master at evoking a claustrophobic atmosphere, with overtones of the gothic. The clash of the sexes is a recurring theme here, as his flawed characters battle themselves and each other in a series of intimate dramas.