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When I mention Latin American literature, you probably immediately think of magical realism, don’t you? Thanks to the Latin American boom of the ’60s and ’70s, with authors such as Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luis Borge, our region is almost synonymous with magical realism in literature. After all, this genre was one of the hallmarks of this boom – mostly led by male writers. But things have changed a lot lately. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a new boom in horror coming out of Latin America, especially with stories written by women.
I won’t lie, I disagreed with Mariana Enríquez when she said that Latin America has no tradition of horror. At least in my native Mexico, authors like Amparo Dávila, Guadalupe Dueñas, and Inés Arredondo have been writing darker stories that certainly come with horror since the 1950s. However, I think we are now building a new canon – one that has been so prolific that I am confident in calling it a second literary boom. And I’m not the first to do this. Newspapers such as The Guardian and The New York Times have also written about it. There’s no question that there’s a new boom, but why horror? And who writes about it?
The boom of horror from Latin America
First, I must address why horror seems to be absent from our literary tradition. There is horror in Latin America. Lots of it. Just look at our oral histories, which are sure to be full of ghosts and other horrifying creatures. But I think the reason it doesn’t feel like there’s horror in literature is simply because it’s misclassified. Horror is mostly associated with the paranormal and can therefore be seen as something dark but magical. If enough people still associate our stories with magical realism, it can remain firmly in that category even though it contains horror elements. The second reason for me is that horror can be very contextual. What might trigger fear in my country might not trigger the same response in others. And the point of terror, after all, is to make us uncomfortable, scared, or even scared.
Why terror? That’s easy. We write horror because we know it. Writers of this boom have used this genre to present our own everyday horrors. Take Brenda Lozano’s Witches for example. One of the themes of the book is the murder of women in Mexico – a country where 10 women are killed every day. Or Samanta Schweblin’s fever dream, which examines how toxic waste and pesticides have affected the country. Don’t even get me started on Mariana Enríquez and her two short story collections, Things We Lost in the Fire and The Dangers of Smoking in Bed. They are full of everyday horrors and often have a seemingly supernatural twist. Her novel Our Share of Night will hit shelves in English in February 2023 – and it’s set during and after Argentina’s terrible dictatorship.
Who writes it?
So these are three Latin American women who write horror: Mariana Enríquez, Brenda Lozano, and Samanta Schweblin. But they’re certainly not the only ones – not even the only ones that have been translated into English. Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda fits the bill, as does Eartheater by Dolores Reyes. Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica is incredible. Equally exciting are Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season, María Fernanda Ampuero’s Cockfight and Carolina Sanín’s The Children – just to name a few.
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Then there are other authors who have not been translated into English, such as Giovanna Rivero, Solange Rodriguez Pappe or Mónica Bustos. But because of this horror boom in Latin America, we will surely get their translations soon. That’s actually the best thing about this boom: Because more and more people in Latin America are reading and writing horror, more and more publishers are translating and publishing these books in English. This opens up a whole new audience for authors, which in turn helps them write more stories. It’s like a monster straight out of those horror books. The more it eats, the bigger it gets – and boy, do I want this particular monster to be gigantic.
This horror boom in Latin America has been brewing for years, although the translations of these books are more recent. That leads me to believe this is just the beginning – and her best moment is yet to come. What’s next? Hopefully, certainly, what comes next are many more horror stories written by Latin American authors. Both in Spanish and in translation.
Before you go, why not check out some more horror books written by Latin American authors? They’re not the only ones we’ve covered either. And if you delve into our horror archive, you’re sure to find plenty of horrors for your TBR!