Argentina typically brings to mind the tango, soccer, Pope Francis, and Che Guevara. The South American country is home to a fiercely passionate culture that has, in many ways, been defined by their struggles for independence. Since gaining independence from Spain in 1816, Argentina has fought through a series of wars, military juntas, coup d’états, and guerilla uprisings – all accentuated by a large economy beset a constant boom or bust cycle.
In spite of these continuous periods of strife, Argentina has fostered a rich and diverse literary culture. The books and novels below, most written by Argentinian authors, are a cross-section of the creative outlets developed within Argentina’s vibrant culture.
This evocative and moving debut charts the life of a boy whose mother mysteriously disappeared from their apartment in Buenos Aires. Shifting between Argentina in the present and in the midst of the military dictatorship of the 1970’s, the novel is a fascinating and intricately woven examination of family, political unrest, and the power of memory in shaping who we are.
Taking place over the course of a single day, Ghosts is the chronicle of a construction worker’s family squatting on a building site. However, as the novel unfolds, the story becomes a haunting, sometimes humorous, and ultimately chilling ordeal centered around a teenage girl’s fascination with the ghosts that haunt the building site.
Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
The Motorcycle Diaries may be one of Argentina’s most famous books, written by one of its most well-known citizens. Before finding infamy as one of Latin America’s most recognizable revolutionaries, Ernesto Guevara – better known as Che – was a young man beginning his travels in Buenos Aires, setting out to discover a South American continent everyone had only read about. Part travelogue and part personal diary, this book provides a candid insight into the events that shaped Guevara’s social thinking.
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borge is deeply influential figure not just in Argentinian literature, but Latin American literature in general. Borge was an early pioneer of magical realism and his short stories remain among the best of the genre. This collection – filled with enigmatic, inventive, and subversive tales – is a perfect introduction to magical realism in its earliest form, and also to Borges’ genre-bending works.
Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin
Jorge Bergoglio ascended to the papacy in 2013 becoming the first Latin American pope. The Argentina-born priest quickly captured the popular imagination with his humble, often witty and playful nature. This collection of interviews and conversations provides a rare look into the life of Pope Francis, the events that shaped his view of Catholicism, and his purpose in the world.
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges’ second entry on this list is a collection of poems and essays exploring virtually all facets of Argentine culture. Borges was a keen observer of life in his native Argentina and more than that, he was a passionate citizen. Here, he delves deep into colorful and evocative ruminations on everything from the tango to compadritos (street-corner thugs).
Told largely through dialogue and with a stream of consciousness style, The Kiss of the Spider Woman is a challenging, but ultimately beguiling read. The narrative centers on two men sharing a cell in an Argentine Prison. One is a gay window dresser named Molina, and the other is an articulate revolutionary named Valentin who is a haunted by a woman from his past. What follows is compelling examination of isolation, victimization, and love.
In Patagonia is a classic of the memoir/travel writing genre, and with good reason. The book follows Chatwin’s adventures through what he describes as “the uttermost part of the earth.” Along the way he stumbles across forgotten legends, other travelers, and bits of family history. Using a non-linear narrative and Chatwin’s gift for storytelling, In Patagonia is an immersive and mesmerizing meditation on life and adventure.
Gabriela Nouzeilles and Graciela Montaldo
The Argentina Reader presents a kaleidoscopic view of life and culture in Argentina. It features a robust and diverse collection of songs, articles, essays, stories, and other documents covering virtually all facets of Argentine life and culture – from history to politics to daily activities. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more eclectic and comprehensive view of Argentina.
Tomas Eloy Martinez
Despite her untimely death from cancer in 1952, Eva Peron – popularly known as Evita – remains a beloved figure and feminist icon in Argentina. She founded the groundbreaking Female Peronist Party, was a pioneer for social welfare, and a champion of women’s suffrage. This surreal and oft-hilarious novel explores the exploits and travails surrounding the remains of Eva Peron.