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Best of 2020: Latin American literature with Leo Boix

Among the best fiction from Latin America this year, Dead Girls by Argentinean Selva Almada (Charco Press) deserves a special mention as being one of the most powerful and necessary. This is an incisive book that deals head-on with the tragedy of femicides in Latin American by recounting the killings of three teenage girls in the interior of Argentina in the 1980s.

 

The Book of Emma Reyes, by Colombian artist and writer Emma Reyes (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), is another highlight. An instant classic, the book includes 23 beautifully written letters by the author, who recounts the moving story of a Colombian girl trying to survive extreme poverty, violence, class prejudice and years of abuse in a exploitative and cruel Catholic convent.

 

Another “best of” is Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season (Fitzcarraldo Editions), a novel with a rhythm and language so intense that it leaves the reader in a state of awe as it explores the social injustices and tragedies of present-day Mexico.

 

I was also mesmerised by Slash and Burn by Salvadorean writer Claudia Hernandez (And Other Stories), a book that investigates with brilliance and compassion the depth of desolation, violence and loss the civil conflict inflicted on a scarred society.

 

Written in the “testimonio” genre and with no names for characters or places, it is as powerful as it is intricate.

 

The Fallen (Fitzcarraldo Editions), the debut novel by young Cuban writer Carlos Manuel Alvarez, is an outstanding book about failure — moral, spiritual and ideological — but most of all it is about poverty in all its forms.

 

My list of the best Latinx poetry published this year includes After Ruben (Red Hen Press), a stunning collection of poems by Francisco Aragon, inspired by another of Latin America’s greatest poets and thinkers, Ruben Dari; Postcolonial Love Poem (Graywolf Press) by Natalie Diaz, a remarkable exploration of Mojave culture, oppression and bodies of water, as well as queer desire, ancestry and family history, and Guillotine (Graywolf Press) by Eduardo C Corral, a poetry collection that brings in personal experiences about queer desire and Latin American machismo, among other important themes.

 

Other highlights of the year are Carlos Andres Gomez’s second collection, Fracture (University of Winsconsin Press), which interrogates with devastating precision Latino men’s beliefs and histories, as well as the cultural heritage and dominant societal messaging about masculinity and masculine performances and Thrown in the Throat by Benjamin Garcia (Milkweed Editions) , an exciting new Latinx voice who has written a powerful book that is as innovative and experimental as it is fiercely camp.

 

Other wonderful poetry books were Materia Prima (Ugly Duckling Presse), that brought together for the first time in English a selection of Uruguayan poet Amanda Berenguer’s best poems. It's a fascinating anthology that explores Berenguer’s ambitious incursions into visual poetry and her constant experimentations in the use of language, styles and syntax.

 

I also recommend translations of Argentinean poet Alejandra Pizarnik’s book Diana’s Tree (Shearsman Books), The Winter Garden Photograph by legendary Cuban Reina Maria Rodriguez (Ugly Duckling Presse), and the Chilean Vicente Huidobro’s Paris 1925: Ordinary Autumn & All of a Sudden (Shearsman Books), all remarkable in their own right.

 

Last, but not least, is The Sea Needs No Ornament, a bilingual anthology of contemporary poetry by women writers of the English- and Spanish-speaking Caribbean and its diasporas.

 

It’s a compendium from a plurilingual region marked by centuries of migration patterns, conquest and colonisation, the present and partial genocide of various indigenous peoples and the forced transshipment and enslavement of African peoples of diverse heritages and languages.

 

It's been an exceptional year for Latinx and Latin American fiction and poetry in all its forms, one that gives hope for the future, highlighting once more the revolutionary power of words and stories.

 

As Cuban Heberto Padilla wrote in his poem Dicen Los Viejos Bardos: ‘No lo olvides, poeta./En cualquier sitio y época.en que hagas o en que sufras la Historia,/siempre estará acechándote algún poema peligroso’ (Don’t forget, poet/Whatever the place and time/in which you make or suffer History,/there will always be a dangerous poem waiting to ambush you.”

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