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Daniel_Williams Mar 1st, 2010 01:52 PM

19th (or Early 20th) Century Mexican (not-too-challenging) Literature?

In an effort to improve my Spanish before my next trip to Mexico, I'm about to take on my first ever Spanish language novel... Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Cien Años de Soledad. Up until now, my Spanish I would best describe as being functional... I can go about day-to-day living (ordering in restaurants, getting my hair cut) satisfactorily in Spanish; talking and listening to others (using preterite, imperfect, subjunctive, future, present) in a social context I do reasonably well with a group of hispanophones. I feel (possibly too hopefully) however it's time that I try reading novels in Spanish the same way I do in French or English.

I very much enjoy reading especially 19th century French, British, Anglo-North-American novelists and would like to be able to read Spanish-language authors of the same time period. (Much before then, I find the language starts to become challenging.) I'm especially interested in Mexico, as it's the Spanish-speaking country I've spent the most time in during my life.

Do you have any suggestions of Mexican authors (novelists, more than poets interest me) who are not too difficult a read for a debutant such as myself? Nothing with too-complicated language structure I think would be needed. For example, something about the level of language difficulty (and with equally captivating stories would be great) of Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, Mark Twain, Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters in English or Guy de Maupassant or Alexandre Dumas in French would be great (I love all these authors!). Something in Spanish the level of Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Joyce, Shakespeare or Marcel Proust I think would be too much for me (I suspect Don Quixote would be too much)...

Any ideas? Mexican is my preference but Iberian, elsewhere-Latin-American or 20th century authors would be welcomed if you think they're particularly good reads for "starter Spanish novels". We have a terrific Spanish-language bookstore here in Montreal, so finding the books (if well-known) should not be an issue.

Best wishes, Daniel

Fra_Diavolo Mar 2nd, 2010 04:40 AM

You might try *Pedro Páramo* (1955) by Juan Rulfo. I read it in translation, but have heard the original Spanish is as simple and direct as the English. The story however is rather mysterious. Garcia Marquez cites him as an influence on his writing.

Daniel_Williams Mar 2nd, 2010 11:13 AM

Thanks Fra_Diavolo

I'll give Juan Rulfo a look next time I'm at La Librería Las Americas. Especially since from the first 3 pages of Cien Años de Soledad, I'm totally in love with Gabriel García Márquez's prose... so it would be interesting to read someone who he said influenced his writing style. And for the record, I'm glad I'm reading it en español as I'm so impressed with his beautifully rich and artistic use of the Spanish language, even if I AM looking up words left, right and center on my online dictionary (one sentence I counted I had to look up 11 words LOL). Slow-going perhaps but so worthwhile...

Thanks again, DANIEL

Continental_Drifter Mar 2nd, 2010 03:07 PM


If you are confident in your Spanish from spoken to reading, try books by Arturo Perez Reverte. He's a current author and kind of a Spanish beach book author. In fact, I think that one of his books even says "the thinkers beach book" or something like that. You can buy them in English at Borders and online in Spanish.

He mixes up a great murder mystery with terrific historical fiction. You could buy both, reading the Spanish chapter first, then the English as a backup.

I read many of the "classics" while in school as a Spanish major and studying literature at the University of Santander, but if your Spanish level is really more pedestrian, Cien Años de Soledad might be a challenge. Keep in mind that Garcia Marquez is the father of "magical realism." This makes interpreting the meaning behind his works - dealing in solitary life - not loneliness - a little tough. If you gradually bring your reading comprehension along gradually, you'll love his writing and his prose. Not to dumb down your choice, but if you run in to some level of frustration, back it down to Platero y Yo by Juan Ramon Jimenez and build from there. It's a quick read. Then, I'd move on to some poetry (not your first choice, I know) such as La Guitarra (et al) by Federico Garcia Lorca. (Try Romancero Gitano and Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter. La Guitarra and others are lyrical and will demonstrate the cadence of Spanish writing. Moving from there, I'd try some short stories by Mariano Jose Larra. (Vuelve Usted Mañana, El Pobrecito Hablador and La Revista Española.)

These are classics, but they are straight forward enough and are quick reads to warm you up for Cien Años. Larra's works were written early 19th C. and will fit your "likes" nicely.

I guess my point is, kudos to you for starting to enjoy Spanish literature in it's intended form! But, don't get discouraged and have some backup (such as some of those listed above) if you get frustrated.

Let me know if you need more!!

Daniel_Williams Mar 3rd, 2010 05:55 AM

Thank you mom23rugrats!

I may have left the impression of frustration reading Cien Años de Soledad having to look up words left-right-and-center in some sentences (some sentences I don't look up anything)... but truly, the contrary is true; I even enjoy the process of enriching my vocabulary. Even just reading now 6 pages, I can hardly fathom putting this book down, so enraptured am I by the storyline (love the stubborn, innocent hopefulness of José Arcadio Buendía thinking he'll strike it rich with Melquíades's toys and his wife's exasperation) as well as Marquez's beautiful manipulation of language.

But thank you, especially for the suggestion of Larra, who is high-up on my list of next-to-read. I find fascinating the ENORMOUS differences in the novels of 19th century England vs. 19th century France despite only the English Channel separating the two, so getting a perspective of a novelist from 19th century Spain I know I will find equally intriguing.

Best wishes, Daniel

Daniel_Williams Sep 22nd, 2011 02:57 PM

Mom23rugrats (now Continental_Drifter?),

I wanted to thank you for passing forth the recommendation of Arturo Perez Reverte. His Capitan Alatriste series novel "Limpieza de Sangre" ended up being the 2nd novel I read in Spanish after "Cien Años de Soledad". As an adventure story set in the time of the early 1600s Spanish Inquisition, the plot was enjoyable, and I think it could have been a page-turner if I had not struggled with the vocabulary funny enough as much as in Marquez's classic (not knowing words related to Medieval times added to the challenge). I thank you again; I think it was precisely the challenge my Spanish needed!

Best wishes, Daniel

kanadajin Sep 27th, 2011 12:50 PM

I read mostly 20th century authors from Spain and Latin America. In seeing your interests and accounts above, here are a few which I think you might enjoy:

Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru but lives in Spain): Travesuras de la niña mala
Un libro muy divertido !!!!

Luis Leante (Spanish, won the Alfaguara prize) : La luna roja, and also Mira si yo te querré

I second the recommendation for Arturo Pérez-Reverte as he is a member of the Royal Spanish Academia (similar to L'Académie Française) Extremely well written novels - I enjoyed La piel del tambor, La reina del sur which are both thriller-type stories, and for a glimpse into Spanish history, his novel El Asedio is also a worthwhile read (though not my favourite of his)as the story takes place in early 19th century Cadix.

I also really enjoy the collection of short stories by the uruguayan Mario Benedetti : Cuentos. They remind me of Contes de Guy de Maupassant. Well written independant short stories, you may read in any order.

Daniel_Williams Oct 2nd, 2011 05:14 AM

Thank you kanadajin for the suggestions.

I'm tackling my second Marcel Proust novel now. (I read the second of the "A La Recherche du Temps Perdu" series by mistake, so I felt I had to go back and read the first.) This is great: with all these suggestions, I think I have enough to keep me busy for a few years :).

Best wishes, Daniel

Continental_Drifter Oct 4th, 2011 06:09 PM


Yes - now Continental Drifter. (Sadly, I had to change it.)

I'm so happy that you are enjoying reading in Spanish once again. If you do find you run out of things to read, sometimes I re-read Perez-Reverte, just to see if I catch anything I missed the first time.

There are also many classics, but I love the history intertwined with fiction in his books.



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