A Literary Tour of Mexico

Louise Taylor

Image: Fernando Vicente

If you want to get under the skin of a country before you visit, its literature is a great place to start. Literary texts can reveal a vast array of insights into a country, from its politics and history to its religion and morals. They can also provide unusual takes on its popular culture and system of values. The literature of Mexico is a good example of this. Literary translation is enabling non-Spanish speaking readers to lift the lid on Mexican culture and understand the country and its past. If you want to discover this fascinating country from all angles, then read on!

The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes

No literary tour of Mexico would be complete without reading one of Carlos Fuentes’ novels. One of Mexico’s most celebrated authors, Fuentes was instrumental in the Latin American literary boom of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Death of Artemio Cruz, published in 1962, is one of Fuentes’ most famous works. We are presented initially with Artemio Cruz on his deathbed, from whence the novel proceeds to fill in his backstory through a series of flashbacks. There are many facets to Cruz: he is a corrupt solider, journalist, politician, tycoon, and lover. His tale leads from the Mexican Revolution into an exploration of the nature of power and its corrupting effects. Ultimately, the novel criticizes the way in which the violence and struggle of the revolution led to the twisting of the revolutionaries’ original aims. This is a seminal work that is a must for anyone beginning to explore Mexican literature.

Signs Preceding the End of The World by Yuri Herrera

This ultra-contemporary novel, written in 2015 by Yuri Herrera, blends gritty, modern-day realism with rich mythology, thereby revealing two contrasting yet complementary sides of Mexican culture. The protagonist, Makina, takes a journey across the US border to save her brother from his misguided attempt to settle on the other side.  Along the way, Makina’s journey reveals tantalising glimpses of life in Mexico, from tiny villages, to growing towns, all the way up to the underbelly of Mexico City. Stunning scenery is paired with drug lords, vigilantes, and people-smugglers in this slim yet epic tale, which entrances the reader from the first page.


Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos

Just over 70 pages long, Juan Pablo Villalobos’ debut novel is so tightly written that it instantly draws the reader in. It is told by Tochtli, the young son of a Mexican drug lord who has exposed him to a world of crime and violence from an early age. Tochtli’s tale is brutal yet endearing, as he has not yet lost the desire to pursue his childhood dreams. However, his dreams become twisted as he pursues them and the novel’s dark humour quickly fades in light of its vision of the brutality of gang life.



The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait by Sarah M. Lowe

Frida Kahlo is undoubtedly one of Mexico’s most well-known artists. Author Sarah Lowe presents Kahlo’s illustrated journal, which documents the last decade of the artist’s turbulent life. Kahlo is known for having expressed her physical and emotional pain through art. This book is thus an intensely personal exploration of the woman behind the iconic works. It also reveals plentiful insights into the cultural experiences of women in Mexico, as well as glimpses of the country’s art scene.



The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel

For those interested in women’s experiences in Mexico, The Body Where I Was Born is essential reading. The first novel by acclaimed author Guadalupe Nettel to be translated into English, it explores girlhood in Mexico in an autobiographical form narrated from a psychoanalyst’s couch, after the combined elements of a birth defect and a series of abandonments lead the narrator to identify as a cockroach. Isolation and survival emerge as key themes in this outstanding literary work.



Mexico: Democracy Interrupted by Jo Tuckman

The British journalist Jo Tuckman has lived in Mexico since the year 2000, when the presidential elections brought an end to the seven-decade rule of the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI), offering a new hope for a flourishing of democracy that has not materialized as expected. Published in 2012, Mexico: Democracy Interrupted explores key aspects of Mexican political life through personal stories, political analysis, and historical reporting. The wide-ranging book covers everything from the role of Catholicism in the country’s affairs to the flaws in the Mexican judicial system.  The work celebrates the energy and bravery of Mexico’s people and, without sugar-coating any of the country’s problems, finds plenty of sources of hope for the future. A great introduction for anyone looking to understand more about Mexico’s recent historical and political past.

Louise Taylor is the content writer of the Tomedes Blog, a professional blog dedicated to writers and translators, featured on the website of the Tomedes translation agency.

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