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Letters from Latin America

Fiction by Mexican authors Juan Pablo Villalobos and Fernanda Melchor and by Dominican writer and singer-songwriter Rita Indiana

READING the Mexican writer Juan Pablo Villalobos's latest book I Don't Expect Anyone To Believe Me (And Other Stories, £11.99) is like entering into a fantastical world so powerful and mesmerising that its almost impossible to leave it.

Masterly translated by Daniel Hahn and a well-deserved winner of the prestigious Herralde Prize, the novel is as witty and entertaining as it is thought-provoking. It involves the story of desperate immigrants, literature students and violent gangsters in contemporary Barcelona. But it’s much more than that.

Villalobos is highly successful in conveying a world where endemic corruption, organised crime, state violence, the dividing line between fiction and reality and the limits of humour in literature get crazier as the story progresses.

The novel's narrator is Juan Pablo Villalobos, a Mexican PhD student in comparative literature, who ends up in the centre of a comical plot involving his good-for-nothing cousin, dangerous thugs, migrants and his ex-girlfriend, the Mexican student Valentina.

A criminal gang wants him to make Laia, the daughter of a corrupt politician, fall in love with him, in order to get near political power and all that this conveys. As events unfold, the strangest things happen — from a dog that talks, to a murder scene that is as daunting as it is comic — and, at times, the book is so humorous that it’s almost impossible not to laugh out loud.

It's a brilliant addition by Villalobos to an impressive literary output that includes Down The Rabbit Hole, Quesadillas and I’ll Sell You A Dog.

Another Mexican writer with a distinctive voice is Fernanda Melchor, whose Hurricane Season (Fitzcarraldo Editions, £12.99) has taken the literary world by storm. Shortlisted for this year’s International Man Booker Prize and winner of the English PEN Award, the book has a rhythm and language so intense that it leaves the reader in a state of constant awe.

In this illuminating work, Melchor explores the social injustices and tragedies of present day Mexico with intelligence and courage.

In it, a group of children find a body floating in a polluted canal by the “ranchería” (small rural settlement) of La Matosa. The body is that of The Witch, a woman sorcerer, who is respected and feared in equal measure by the locals.

After the macabre discovery, accusations are levelled at a group of local youngsters, themselves victims of years of poverty, social inequality and violence. From then on, the characters tell their own stories with achingly powerful voices from a world badly affected by decades of squalor and state corruption and where violence and power converge with devastating effects.

With a staccato rhythm, it is a masterpiece by one of Latin America’s most exciting and unique voices and it's incredibly powerful and haunting.

Born and raised in the Dominican Republic and now living in Puerto Rico, Rita Indiana is a force to be reckoned with in contemporary Caribbean literature and music. Her latest novel Made in Saturn (And Other Stories, £10), doesn’t disappoint and it leaves you wanting more.

At its centre is young artist Argenis Luna, son of a once-revolutionary father who is now part of the ruling elite in the Dominican Republic. Luna is a heroin addict who's being sent to Cuba to recover from his drug addiction and during his time on the island discovers a whole series of colourful characters who will eventually bring him enlightenment.

From brave drag queens and artists, to hustlers, a doctor and a cleaning lady turned lover, Luna experiences a Cuba that will allow him to find hope and a sense of renewal.

It's a riotous work, focusing on the anxieties and fears of the children of Latin-American revolutions, as well as with current uncertainties in the Caribbean world.

And it's a must-read for anyone interested in Latin American hyper-realism, as well as the complexities of being queer in Central America.







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