As many of you discovered this past month with our two Chilean reads (a work of historical fiction encompassing a mystery & a slim volume of poetry written by a Nobel Prize winner), Chilean books are compelling. For those looking to extend their stay in Chile, we’ve compiled 10 additional engaging books with connections to Chile we think you’ll adore as well. Whether you’re in the mood for a jaw-dropping true story, a stunning literary thriller, an eloquent travelogue, or something else, we’ve got you covered.
“Spirits were high when the Fairchild F-227 took off from Argentina, and headed for Santiago, Chile. On board were 45 people, including an amateur rugby team from Uruguay and their friends and family. The skies were clear that Friday, and at 3:30 p.m., the Fairchild’s pilot reported their altitude at 15,000 feet. But one minute later, the Santiago control tower lost all contact with the aircraft. For eight days, Chileans, Uruguayans, and Argentinians searched for it, but snowfall in the Andes had been heavy, and the odds of locating any wreckage were slim.
10 weeks later, a Chilean peasant in a remote valley noticed two haggard men desperately gesticulating to him from across a river. He threw them a pen and paper, and the note they tossed back read: “I come from a plane that fell in the mountains . . .”
16 of the original 45 passengers on the F-227 survived its horrific crash. In the remote glacial wilderness, they camped in the plane’s fuselage, where they faced freezing temperatures, life-threatening injuries, an avalanche, and imminent starvation. As their meager food supplies ran out, and after they heard on a patched-together radio that the search parties had been called off, it seemed like all hope was lost. To save their own lives, these men and women not only had to keep their faith, they had to make an impossible decision: Should they eat the flesh of their dead friends?
A remarkable story of endurance and determination, friendship and the human spirit, Alive is the dramatic bestselling account of one of the most harrowing quests for survival in modern times.”
“The novel follows Óscar Amalfitano―an exiled Chilean university professor and widower―through the maze of his revolutionary past, his relationship with his teenage daughter, Rosa, his passion for a former student, and his retreat from scandal in Barcelona.
Forced to leave Barcelona for Santa Teresa, a Mexican city close to the U.S. border where women are being killed in unprecedented numbers, Amalfitano soon begins an affair with Castillo, a young forger of Larry Rivers paintings. Meanwhile, Rosa, Amalfitano's daughter, engages in her own epistolary romance with a basketball player from Barcelona, while still trying to cope with her mother's early death and her father's secrets. After finding Castillo in bed with her father, Rosa is forced to confront her own crisis. What follows is an intimate police investigation of Amalfitano that involves a series of dark twists, culminating in a finale full of euphoria and heartbreak.”
(Special thanks to book club member, Yurena for the suggestion.)
“An unnamed couple sits in a café, waiting for the city offices to open so they can finalize their divorce papers. The wife opens the local newspaper to a shocking photo of a classmate from her university days being taken into custody by the police. In an engrossing ebb and flow of facts, recollections, and conjecture, the couple spend the rest of the day trying to figure out how this former acquaintance—and, like her, the couple themselves, along with an entire generation of Chileans—could have reached this dead end almost unconsciously.
Álvaro Bisama’s award-winning novel Dead Stars is a story-within-a-story set against the backdrop of Chile’s transition to democracy after decades under the Pinochet dictatorship, filled with characters desperately searching for a way to escape their past, their present, their future: a small-town metalhead; left-wing revolutionaries without a new cause; a brotherhood of cough syrup addicts; punks, prostitutes, and thieves. Through them, Bisama’s tragic novel explores how our choices, the people we know, the places we pass through, and the events of our lives exert an unsuspected influence long after their light has gone out and they have faded from our memory.”
“A schoolteacher whose poetry catapulted her to early fame in her native Chile and an international diplomat whose boundary-defying sexuality still challenges scholars, Gabriela Mistral (1889–1957) is one of the most important and enigmatic figures in Latin American literature of the last century. The Locas mujeres poems collected here are among Mistral’s most complex and compelling, exploring facets of the self in extremis—poems marked by the wound of blazing catastrophe and its aftermath of mourning.
From disquieting humor to balladlike lyricism to folkloric wisdom, these pieces enact a tragic sense of life, depicting ‘madwomen’ who are anything but mad. Strong and intensely human, Mistral’s poetic women confront impossible situations to which no sane response exists. This groundbreaking collection presents poems from Mistral’s final published volume as well as new editions of posthumous work, featuring the first English-language appearance of many essential poems. Madwomen promises to reveal a profound poet to a new generation of Anglophone readers while reacquainting Spanish readers with a stranger, more complicated ‘madwoman’ than most have ever known.”
“Allende is a mesmerizing novelist who here takes on a double challenge. Writing nonfiction for the first time, she interweaves the story of her own life with the slow dying of her 28-year-old daughter, Paula. A magician with words, Allende makes this grim scenario into a wondrous encounter with the innermost sorrows and joys of another human being. In 1991, while living in Madrid with her husband, Paula was felled by porphyria, a rare blood disease, and, despite endless care by her mother and husband, lapsed into an irreversible coma. Her mother, as she watched by Paula's bedside, began to write this book, driven by a desperation to communicate with her unconscious daughter. She writes of her own Chilean childhood, the violent death of her uncle, Salvador Allende [the former President of Chile], and the family's flight to Venezuela from the oppressive Pinochet regime. Allende explores her relationship with her own mother, documented in the hundreds of letters they exchanged since she left home. Only a writer of Allende's passion and skill could share her tragedy with her readers and leave them exhilarated and grateful.
With Paula, Allende has written a powerful autobiography whose straightforward acceptance of the magical and spiritual worlds will remind readers of her first book, The House of the Spirits.”
One of Literary Hub's "13 Translated Books by Women You Should Read"
"Meruane's prose has great literary force: it emerges from the hammer blows of conscience, but also from the ungraspable, and from pain." -Bolaño
“This powerful, profound autobiographical novel describes a young Chilean writer recently relocated to New York for doctoral work who suffers a stroke, leaving her blind and increasingly dependent on those closest to her. Fiction and autobiography intertwine in an intense, visceral, and caustic novel about the relation between the body, illness, science, and human relationships.
Lina Meruane, considered the best woman author of Chile today, has won numerous prestigious international prizes, and lives in New York, where she teaches at NYU.”
"Always lively and informative, sketching in the history with a light but sure touch…she admirably conveys the mood of contemporary Chile." -The New Statesman
“Squeezed between a vast ocean and the longest mountain range on earth, Chile is 2,600 miles long and never more than 110 miles wide—not a country that lends itself to maps, as Sara Wheeler discovered when she traveled alone from the top to the bottom, from the driest desert in the world to the sepulchral wastes of Antarctica.
Eloquent, astute, nimble with history and deftly amusing, Travels in a Thin Country established Sara Wheeler as one of the very best travel writers in the world.”
“This Chilean literary thriller tells the story of three lives intertwined with that of an enigmatic author, whose character is inspired by the groundbreaking Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.
Vera Sigall, now eighty years old, has lived a mysterious, ascetic life far from the limelight of literary circles. This powerful character has a profound effect on those around her—Daniel, an architect and her neighbor and friend, unhappy in his marriage and career; Emilia, a Franco-Chilean student who travels to Santiago to write a thesis on the elusive Vera; and Horacio, an acclaimed poet with whom Vera had a tumultuous, passionate affair in her youth.
As Daniel, Emilia, and Horacio tell their stories, they reconstruct Vera’s past, and search for their own identities. Spanning from modern-day Chile to the 1950s, 60s, and through the years of the Pinochet dictatorship, In the Distance with You reveals successive mysteries and discoveries like a set of Russian nesting dolls.”
A fundamental book which “recounts the collaboration of US corporations and government agencies with reactionary Chilean military, political, and business forces to overthrow the Popular Unity (UP) government.
Having served as an assistant to the manager of the Chilean Central Bank and, later, to Allende's economic adviser, Boorstein is better equipped than most for this sort of book. After a condensed, but helpful summary of significant trends in Chilean economic and political history, Boorstein tackles the prime problems faced by Allende's UP government and the futile attempts made to deal with them.
Boorstein also describes the efforts mounted by US corporations, the CIA, and other Washington agencies to destabilize the UP regime, bringing together material available elsewhere (the reports of Congressional investigations), but also drawing on his own experiences as an adviser with the Chile Trading Corporation. Although basically supportive of Allende's actions, Boorstein does argue that the UP policy-makers lacked a coherent conception of how to expand the government's power; they underestimated the importance of political education, especially for the lower classes and the military…an informative and sobering affidavit.“
“The Norte Grande of Chile, the world's driest desert, had ‘engendered contemporary Chile, everything that was good about it, everything that was dreadful,’ writes Ariel Dorfman in his brilliant exploration of one of the least known and most exotic corners of the globe. For 10,000 years the desert had been mined for silver, iron, and copper, but it was the 19th-century discovery of nitrate that transformed the country into a modern state and forced the desert's colonization.
The mines' riches generated mansions and oligarchs in Chile's more temperate region—and terrible inequalities throughout the country. The Norte Grande also gave birth to the first Chilean democratic and socialist movements, nurturing every major political figure of modern Chile from Salvador Allende to Augusto Pinochet. In this richly layered personal memoir, illustrated with the author's own photographs, Dorfman sets out to explore the origins of contemporary Chile—and, along the way, seek out his wife's European ancestors who came years ago to Chile as part of the nitrate rush. And, most poignantly, he looks for traces of his friend and fellow 1960s activist, Freddy Taberna, executed by a firing squad in a remote Pinochet death camp. “