Must-Read Books from The Americas + Caribbean (Global Reading Challenge)
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Hello and welcome to my new overambitious blog series, in which I intend to chart my global reading journey (ba dum tsh) over the course of both six separate blog posts and the next few months/years/however long it takes me to read a book from every country. (Editor’s note: I’ve since decided that I’m going to aim to read all of these books by the end of 2019, lol. Head here to see my progress and follow my new literary Insta too!)
I’ve been writing a lot about literature lately. So, I’ve both been reading a lot of books and reading a lot about books lately. My New Year’s Resolution was to only read books by women, a la Lilit Marcus, although I broke that almost immediately by tucking into a copy of Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Copeland that I picked up while travelling in Peru. That’s not really a surprise given that I’ve had things like ‘drink more water’ and ‘do more running’ on my resolutions since forever. I’m just, like, not good at sticking to them I guess?
And yet. Here I am with another vaguely ridiculous challenge—to read a book from every country in the world. Or, more specifically, a book by a woman/non-binary writer from every country in the world.
Over the course of six posts, I’ll be listing the countries (of which there are onehundredandninetyfuckingseven by the way, when you count Palestine—which you bloody should—and Vatican City—which, meh, whatever) according to geographical region, before adding my book recommendation and/or ‘goal book’ (a.k.a. the book I want to read from that country).
These entries may change.
Some countries might have more entries if I can’t decide (I’ve never been entirely decisive either).
Some may remain empty for a while, as I hunt for women in translation to include.
Either way, you’ll be left with a nicely curated, if entirely subjective, selection of texts to browse through to your heart’s content. And hopefully you’ll learn something new, unexpected, or enlightening about world cultures as you do so.
Where are we starting? Well, as the title suggests, I’m kicking this series off with the must-read books from the Americas and Caribbean.
GLOBAL READING CHALLENGE: THE AMERICAS + THE CARIBBEAN
Antigua and Barbuda
Antiguan-American author Jamaica Kincaid and Annie John is my choice for this Caribbean country’s entry.
Yes, I’ve read some Borges. But he’s not the Argentine I’m most excited to read. I’m so ready to get my teeth into Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin instead. This will be her second book in an English translation (the first being Fever Dream) and given that I’m on a short story hype right now, it’s perfect.
Help me find a woman writer from the Bahamas!!!!
After ruling out Rihanna, I went for Karen Lord instead. Her book, Redemption in Indigo, is a critically acclaimed rewrite of a Senegalese story.
Fun fact: Belize is the only first-language English speaking nation in Central America. When researching for this book, I particularly wanted to represent an Afro-Latinx writer, and that’s how I ended up adding the work of Zee Edgell to this round-up. She was born in what was then British Honduras (now, naturally, Belize) and published her first book, Beka Lamb, a year after Belize gained independence. However, I chose her third novel, The Festival of San Joaquin, which looks at race and society in Belize, through a woman’s lens.
I wanted to read Sweet Blood by Giovanna Rivero Santa Cruz, after I heard about her through the excellent A Year of Reading the World blog. However, I couldn’t find it online, so I went for the other recommendation Ann puts forward in that post—Our Dead World by Liliana Colanzi.
Clarice Lispector (who I thought was a cartoon character until…very recently) seems the obvious choice. But…nah. I went for this fun-looking book, The End, by Brazilian film star Fernanda Torres instead.
I wanted to go for a Black or Native woman for my Canadian entry. When I started researching, there were SO MANY books to choose from that I got overwhelmed. (In fact, this list is fucking fabulous.) In the end, I chose Birdie by Tracey Lindberg though.
Chile’s entry, on the other hand, was wildly easy to decide on, simply because my favourite book is by an accomplished Chilean author called Marcela Serrano. If you’ve ever asked me for a book recommendation in real life, I’ve probably raved about Ten Women to you already. If not, well then I’ll take this opportunity to say BUY TEN WOMEN. It’s fabulous.
I was going to recommend a book that I read a lil’ while back called Delirium by Laura Restrepo. However, given that it took me a long time to really get into the damn thing, I’ve decided to spare you and instead recommend a title that I haven’t yet read but am truly dying to. Behold—A Cup of Water Under my Bed, a memoir from the queer Cuban-Colombian writer Daisy Hernández. (Also, I’m currently reading Margarita García Robayo’s bizarre but excellent—and award-winning—Fish Soup, so, that too, I guess.)
Lucky me, as I was writing this post, I met a girl from Costa Rica and asked her for her recommendations. She gave me two names: Carmen Naranjo and Ana Istarú. Unfortunately, neither of them have been translated into English as far as I can see.
Cuba was a place I didn’t warm to, but I know plenty who have. Whether you’ve been or not though, warm up to Havana with Mirta Yañez’s short story collection Havana is a Really Big City.
Dominica. A place I didn’t really know existed and a place I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find an entry for. However, it turns out that one of the most talked about books on my uni reading list (that I, umm, never read) was by a writer fro m Dominica: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. (Note that I’m using ‘from’ very loosely, as she was born there to a 3rd Gen Dominican mum and Welsh dad, but lived most her life in England.)
Apparently the most-visited place in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is something I’ve ‘learnt’ a lot about mainly through both the people I follow on Twitter and memes about Dominican men. So, yeah. Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies, about the Mirabal sisters, piqued my interest, but I’ve decided to go for Night Blooming Jasmin(n)e by Jasminne Méndez because I live for essay collections.
When I was in Ecuador, I read a couple of books by Ecuadorian writers—including some short stories by Raúl Pérez Torres, I believe—but from what I remember, NONE of them were women. Shame on me, honestly, but now I’ve found plenty that I want to read: the first writer—Mónica Ojeda—is only available in Spanish so far, but I did dig up Gabriela Aléman’s Poso Wells, a feminist-noir eco-thriller which I immediately added to my WishList. (Another great Ecuadorian-American writer is Bani Amor, FYI.)
Yesika Salgado and her poetry collection Corazón are the ones I’m going for with my El Salvador entry, although edyke chilomé is a Mexican-Salvadoran poet that also interests me a ton.
Described as a poet and short storyist, Merle Collins was one of the few names I found when looking for women writers from Grenada. However, after searching her name on Amazon, I was sold by the cover illustration of her text Lady in a Boat. Trust me, it’s gorgeous.
I’ve written about must-read books from Guatemala before now, but for this entry I thought it was important to choose someone who wasn’t Rigoberta Menchú. I went for the poetry of Melissa Lozada-Oliva, because how can you not love a book titled Peluda?
Oonya Kempadoo not only has an amazing name, she’s also an impressive writer, with three novels under her belt so far. Born in the UK, her parents are from Guyana, and she writes beautifully on the Caribbean. Or so I’ve read. I’m very excited to read her most recent novel All Decent Animals.
(It’s worth noting that I took my recommendation for Kempadoo, and for one of my USA entries, from this Book Riot article.)
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, duh.
I wanted some Garifuna representation in this list, and am really pleased to get it thanks to Sulma Arzu-Brown and Bad Hair Does Not Exist!
A chance Google led me to the critically-lauded Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn and I was sold as soon as I clapped eyes on the cover.
There are so many books I’ve read from Mexico and Mexican writers to choose from, so this was one of the trickiest to narrow down (although you can go to my Mexico must-read post if you’re really itching for more options). However, I went with one of the best books I’ve read recently—Umami by Laia Jufresa.
I recently picked up a Spanish copy of Gioconda Belli’s El país de las mujeres, but haven’t got around to reading it yet. However, that’s not available in English as far as I can see, so my recommendation is her earlier memoir The Country Under My Skin.
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez (whose father is Panamanian) looks fascinating and combines tales of immigration and Panama with my fave country, Mexico.
I don’t know how, but I couldn’t find a contemporary Paraguayan women writer. Any sugggestions?
My Peru entry is easier than my Paraguay one—Sexographies by Gabriela Wiener. I’m obsessed with this collection of essays and I really want more of her work to see an English translation in the near future.
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Nevis-born Carol Ottley-Mitchell was the only woman writer I could find from St. Kitts and Nevis, but she writes children’s books. Any other suggestions for St. Kitts and Nevis writers gratefully received!
I’m going with Coming Up Hot: Eight New Poets from the Caribbean for my St. Lucia entry because I couldn’t find a St. Lucian woman writer with a book in their own right.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
I struggled with this entry too. Suggestions welcome.
Of all the Surinamese women authors I found while researching, I could only find one who had their work published in English—Gloria Wekker. Even though her work is entirely scholarly in nature, I’m gunna give her book White Innocence a go and if you want to learn more about the hypocrisy of Dutch culture when it comes to xenophobia and racism, you probably should too.
Trinidad and Tobago
It was easier to find work from women writers in Trinidad and Tobago. To be honest, I was spoilt for choice but in the end, I went for Ramabai Espinet’s The Swinging Bridge.
United States of America
Fun fact: there’s a shit ton of literature from the USA. Naturally, I’ve read plenty of it over the years. However, I think it’s only appropriate to look at some literature coming from the outlying islands, including Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands. Therefore, my USA recommendation is actually threefold: Puerto Rican writer Ivelisse Rodríguez’s Love War Stories is my first choice, while the Indigenous Literatures from Micronesia anthology, edited by Guam-born author Evelyn Flores comes in second. Rounding out the recommendations is How to Escape from a Leper Colony by Virgin Island born-and-raised Tiphanie Yanique.
Cristina Peri Rossi, exiled from Uruguay in her youth, is the obvious choice here. I haven’t actually read anything by her though and I wanted to see if there was someone a little less well-known. That led me to a pair of poets: Melisa Machado, whose first anthology The Red Song was just translated into English, and Circe Maia, who wrote about exile in A Trip to Salto.
I found PLENTY of women to talk about for my Venezuela entry, some who dealt with poetry, others who preferred prose and some who went all-out political. However, I found it tricky to source their work in English. However, I did find this title by Ana Teresa Torres: Doña Inés vs. Oblivion. I’m not big on magical realism, but I’ll take what I can get.
Which books from the Americas and Caribbean have you read? Do you think I should have included different entries for any of the above countries? Let me know in the comments!