Louisa Smith is the founder and editor of the Epic Book Society, a book blog and haven for book-lovers who love to share their passion for reading. In this guest article, she writes about the best books in Argentina to inspire your travels and read before you visit the country.
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Argentina is a fascinating country known for its fine table wines, Argentinian BBQ and alluring tango dancing. Its history is expansive, dating all the way back to the time of the Incas. Not to mention the landscapes of Patagonia, where the Andes meet the Pacific Ocean, which is brimming with lakes, mountains and jaw-dropping glaciers.
It’s no wonder that Argentina is on the top of many travellers’ bucket lists, and what better way to get in the mood for your adventure than to read a book about Argentina? By diving into an engrossing novel set in Argentina, you feel like you have been transported into another country, as well as getting a better understanding of its landscapes, its history and its culture.
So, when you’re ready, let’s take a look at the best Argentinian novels.
Non-fiction books about Argentina
To fully understand the country and its people, there is no better way to learn about them than to immerse yourself in the pages of a non-fiction novel about Argentina.
1. In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
Bruce Chatwin’s classic travel book In Patagonia is probably the most celebrated travel memoir of all time. It received the 1978 Hawthornden Prize and the 1979 E. M. Forster Award, given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. It was also nominated for the 1988 Booker Prize.
As a child, Chatwin stayed with his grandparents who had a cabinet full of historical items that fascinated him, including a “piece of brontosaurus”, which turned out to be from a giant sloth found in a cave in Chilean Patagonia, which he later sold to the British Museum.
Years later, when Chatwin was working as a journalist, he was tasked with interviewing a 93-year-old architect and designer, where he noticed a map of Patagonia on her wall. He told her he had always wanted to go, and she replied “so have I, go there for me.”
And so he did. In 1974, he travelled to Lima, Peru, and then on to Patagonia, where he spent six months travelling around and collecting stories from people he met. He told his editor he was looking for his own “piece of brontosaurus”, but what he actually found was more symbolic than that.
2. The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
Che Guevara is most commonly known as the Marxist revolutionary minister of Cuba, but before this, he was a mere medical student living in Buenos Aires, his home, who wanted little more than to see the world. With his friend, Alberto Granado, at the young age of 23, he set off on a motorcycle journey across South America with plans to see all the sites they had only ever read about in books.
What they ended up seeing was social injustice, poverty, and ostracised communities. His story revealed how Chilean miners were exploited, how communists were persecuted, and how the tattered descendants of a once-great ancient Inca civilisation had crumbled into ruin.
In the nine months of travelling across the Andes and the Atacama Desert, he finds himself in the Amazon jungle, volunteering as a nurse in a leper colony. It is here where he has the eye-opening experience that teaches him about true social injustice and how society treats and cares for one another. It is a classic coming-of-age tale of adventure, travel and self-discovery.
3. Enduring Patagonia by Gregory Crouch
Patagonia is a vast, expansive network of mountains, lakes and glaciers, that is shared by Argentina and Chile. Here, you can expect year-round harsh weather environments, from gale-force winds to biting snow. It is also a place that has inspired and fascinated explorers for centuries. Ferdinand Magellan and Charles Darwin were some of the most famous explorers to venture here, but even after all these years, the Patagonian Andes still remain a mystery.
And that is why Gregory Crouch decided it was time to unravel it. Over seven expeditions, he braved weather, gravity, fear, and doubt to explore the lands of Patagonia. In this novel, he recounts how he prepared for the expeditions, how he dealt with the tremendous highs and crippling lows, from celebrations of successful climbs to the boredom of forced encampments. If you have ever wanted to explore the mountains of Patagonia, this book is a pretty thorough illustration of it. It also includes more than two dozen colour photographs from his expeditions.
4. The Argentina Reader: History, Culture, Politics edited by Gabriela Nouzeilles and Graciela Montaldo
Argentina is a country that is vastly different from any other in South America. Often referred to as “like Europe but not Europe, like Latin America but not Latin America”, the real essence of what makes Argentina’s culture is both diverse and unique at the same time.
In short, Argentina is a complicated country, and The Argentina Reader is the best introductory book about Argentina to break it down for you. It compiles songs, articles, comic strips, scholarly essays and short stories from Argentines, sharing what they know about Argentina’s history, culture, and how it came to be such a paradoxical Latin American nation.
It was once among the richest nations in the world, but all that ended when it entered the twenty-first century, seeing its economy crumble into shambles and its citizens seething with anger and frustration. It covers the Spanish colonial regime; the decades of nation-building after its independence from Spain in 1810 and the progress of economic growth and cultural change that made Argentina, by the turn of the twentieth century, the most modern country in Latin America.
5. Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read
Alive is the story of how an amateur rugby team from Uruguay survived in the Andes after their plane crashed in the mountains between Chile and Argentina on its way to Santiago Chile. This story is so unbelievable, it has to be true – and it is.
This unsettling account of how 45 people, including the rugby team and their friends and family, came to a crash in the Andes, and after eight solid days of searching from three neighbouring countries, no wreckage was found. Ten weeks later, two men came wandering in a remote valley where they met a Chilean peasant on the other side of a river. They threw the peasant a note saying “I come from a plane that fell in the mountains…”
Out of the 45 passengers, 16 survived. They spent weeks in the remote, glacial wilderness camping in the plane’s fuselage. Here they endured freezing temperatures, life-threatening injuries, near starvation, and an avalanche. Their food supplies were thin, and they knew no one was looking for them. This is a remarkable tale of endurance and determination, and one of the most harrowing quests for survival in our history.
6. Angels with Dirty Faces: How Argentinian Soccer Defined a Nation and Changed the Game Forever by Jonathan Wilson
Argentinians love soccer. Some of the biggest names in soccer have come from Argentina; Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona and Alfredo Di Stefano, to name just a few.
Every year, a new Argentina soccer talent comes to light in Argentina. In Angels with Dirty Faces, Jonathan Wilson tells of how Argentinian soccer has progressed throughout the years, how the exuberant style of playing has transformed the country, and the emergence of the most famous soccer players in Argentinian history.
Fiction books About Argentina
Argentina is truly blessed with some great novelists. These Argentinian authors are some of the most celebrated writers in Latin America, whose literary works have been loved for decades.
7. The Tango Singer by Tomás Eloy Martínez
Argentina is the birthplace of tango. It was once the dance known in 1880s brothels and lower class back alleys. It was fast, sensual, and disreputable. The Tango Singer follows the life of Bruno Cadogan, who flew from New York to Buenos Aires in search of the legendary tango singer, Julio Martel.
It is said that Martel’s voice is so beautiful it is almost supernatural. But Martel does not want to be found, and Bruno is increasingly drawn to the mystery of this tango singer and his strange and evocative performances around the city.
As he tries to find Martel, he learns the story of the singer’s life and uncovers a dark labyrinth of the city’s past.
8. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges is one of the most celebrated Argentinian novelists in Latin America. He is famous for his short stories, in which his most famous collection is pulled together in Ficciones. The collection was first published in 1941 and is a selection of tales around the theme of labyrinth, or complex issues and abstract concepts.
He is known for writing magical elements that are perceived as real. Though he does not often refer to a location in his stories, his tales often reference Argentina, his home. Ask any Argentinian what stories they have read as a child, and they will no doubt be able to recall a story from him.
9. El Túnel by Ernesto Sábato
The Tunnel is a highly acclaimed Argentinian novel about psychological and obsessive love. It was first published in 1948 and has since become an international bestseller. It tells the story of an artist, Juan Pablo Castel, who recalls the murder of a woman called María Iribarne from the cell of his prison.
He is obsessed with her from the first moment he sees her and fantasises about her for months about their next meeting. When the pair eventually meet again, a relationship develops and he is convinced she feels the same.
But his growing paranoia leads him to eventually destroy everything he loved so dearly.
10. Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
Julio Cortázar is a celebrated Argentinian writer, whose translated version of Hopscotch won the first National Book Award to recognise the work of a translator. Hopscotch is the story of an Argentinian writer, Horacio Oliveira, living in Paris with his mistress, La Maga. They surround themselves with a bunch of loose-knit, bohemian friends, who call themselves “the Club.” When a child dies and La Maga disappears, so too comes the end of their social engagements.
Oliveira promptly returns to Buenos Aires where he works in various different roles, including a salesman, a cat sitter for the circus and an attendance at a mental asylum. It is written as an internal monologue and has been praised for its humourous slang, and use of different languages. It’s an entertaining read with profound storytelling techniques.
11. My Father’s Ghost is Climbing in the Rain by Patricio Pron
As one of the best young Spanish-language novelists of the 21st century, Patricio Pron’s deeply emotional story of My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain is one of the finest books about Argentina today.
It tells the story of an Argentine family’s buried secrets. Following a young writer who returns to Argentina to visit his dying father, only to find himself drawn into a search for a local man who is missing.
As the truth of generation after generation comes to light, the writer is forced to confront Argentina’s political past, as well as his own family’s long-hidden history. This semi-autobiographical novel set in Argentina is about corruption, responsibility, and remembrance.
Final words on books about Argentina
Argentina is a country full of passion, adventure, and exploration. With such a varied and unique culture, unlike anywhere else in the world, there is much to learn and love about this fascinating Latin American country.
If you are looking to travel to this fascinating land, then these books about Argentina will transport you there in no time.
You can read more of Louisa’s writing on literature at the Epic Book Society. Have you read any books about Argentina that aren’t featured on this list? Let us know about your recommendations in the comments below.
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