Reading in the Tropics
By Zoe Doyle, Amy Wright, Ana Matute, Rowan Jackson and Lauren Jones
There are many great novels without an edition translated into English, and authors who still aren’t known in languages different to their own. In celebrating some books written by authors who grew up in, or who now live in, tropical countries, as well as books set in those countries, we want to enlighten you with many ways to dive deep into learning about tropical countries and their cultures.
The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector
From Brazil, the voice of Clarice Lispector is enlightening, and through her narrative, she depicts a strange and haunting tale. The Hour of the Star describes a girl named Macabéa, who lives in the slums of Rio do Janeiro. The novel focuses on capturing the struggles of her life circumstances. Lispector deconstructs expectation and digs deeper, exploring poverty, identity and love in fascinating ways. This story has a unique way of talking about the simple things in life, questioning at the same time some useless protocols in the world.
The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Compared to Pachinko by Lee Min-Jin and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The Mountains Sing is a sweeping, multi-generational epic following the Tran family as they navigate the changes and conflict that grip their home of Vietnam. In North Vietnam, Tran Dieu Lan flees her family farm during the Land Reform, while years later, her granddaughter, Hương, comes of age while her loved ones fight in the Vietnam War. The novel is not an easy one to read; it is filled with hardship, pain and death, and portrays the very real cost of conflict. And yet, the novel also embraces the poignant stories of the Vietnamese people that are steeped in cultural traditions and illustrate the resilience of a nation undergoing major upheaval. Nguyễn uses her own experiences growing up witnessing the war’s effect on her country and countrymen as she explores the trauma that subsequent generations have had no option but to inherit.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Mexican Gothic is a captivating and chilling gothic novel set in the Mexican mountains. Noemí Taboada receives an unsettling letter from her cousin Catalina, begging to be rescued from High Place, the home of the Doyle’s, Catalina’s new family-in-law. Once Noemí arrives at this grand, isolated and decrepit house, she quickly becomes entrapped within the house’s spell. The longer she stays, the more she discovers about the Doyle family’s cursed history, and both her dreams and reality become increasingly more haunted and disturbing. Mexican Gothic encompasses the gothic atmosphere perfectly whilst adding a modern take on the genre. Silvia Moreno-Garcia ties in Mexican folklore with classic gothic themes to create a captivating, fast-paced novel with mystery and darkness dripping off every word. Noemí is perfect as the main character; she’s chic, clever and headstrong. If you’re looking for a subversive gothic tale with a strong female lead, Mexican Gothic might be right up your street.
The Sun on My Head by Geovani Martins. Translated by Julia Sanches
In his debut short story collection The Sun on My Head, Martins explores life in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro through recounting moments in the lives of young boys. Although each of Martins’ stories allows only a brief glimpse into the lives of these boys, they sensitively and poignantly engage with complex topics, such as drug crime, violence, identity and the threat of the authorities. These stories reveal the realities of growing up in the favelas and paint the people of Rio as people that face challenges, yet are determined to live on their own terms and not be defined by the difficulties they face. Martins’ writing is agonisingly beautiful and evokes deep emotions; the nostalgic tinge of ‘The Case of the Butterfly’ and the protagonist’s desire for power in ‘Spiral’ are particularly noteworthy in this regard. The Sun on My Head is a great read if you’re looking for a book that will expand your horizons and really make you feel something.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett is an exciting and compelling story about Marina Singh, who travels to the depths of the Amazon to uncover the progress of her former professors’ research on fertility. The findings have been shrouded in secrecy, and a colleague of Marina’s who previously made the same journey did not survive due to reasons that seem unclear. State of Wonder is a descriptive novel that explores the power of nature in an almost magical and fantastical manner, and yet Patchett’s writing is so real that you feel you are with Marina on the same journey, experiencing the same challenges and adventures. It is both thought-provoking and captivating, with a storyline that is most certainly unique.