South America Travel Guide: Literary Tours

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South America Travel Guide: Literary Tours

Guidebooks are great, but if you really want to prepare for your next trip to South America, take a look at some of Latin America’s literary masterpieces before you board the plane. Buenos Aires becomes a much more romantic landscape through the eyes of Jorge Luis Borges in the 1920s; Peru more fascinating and mysterious from the social commentary of Mario Vargas Llosa; Colombia more passionate from reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Rio de Janeiro a city of erotic misadventures after entering the mind of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis; and all of Latin America a crazy adventure when explained by your ridiculous, but poignant friend Maqroll the Gaviero, figment of brilliant Alvaro Mutis’ imagination.

The romance of Buenos Aires has inspired authors for centuries

The romance of Buenos Aires has inspired authors for centuries

Fervor de Buenos Aires, Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina

Fervor de Buenos Aires (Passion for Buenos Aires), published in 1923, is Borges first collection of poetry and, although not regarded as his best work, focuses on the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires after his return from living abroad.  Through his poems, readers can experience what Buenos Aires looked and felt like from the perspective of a young Borges, new to his native city after a long period of absence. Many of the landmarks, streets, and neighborhoods he mentions will be familiar as you tour Buenos Aires for the first time or, like Borges, as someone returning to a city you once knew with an entirely different point of view.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia

Obviously the most famous Latin American writer’s most famous work should appear on this list. If you haven’t read this epic, multi-generation tale about a fictional family in Colombia, you need to.  Tipping his hat to Borges by telling the story in a non-linear way, the author expertly weaves the lives of 7 generations of the Buendia family around central themes while throwing in more than a dash of magical realism. While you tour South America, perhaps you can take a tip from Marquez and create a magical land based on your own perceptions.

The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Brazil

There’s nothing like hearing the tales of scorned loves and bitter romances from a man buried 6 feet under, which is exactly what you get from reading this pessimistic, hilarious, and erotic novel written in 1881. It begins with the fictional deceased author dedicating his memoirs to the worm which took the first bite out of his corpse, and only gets more uplifting from there.  Influenced heavily by Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Representation both in personal philosophy and form, Assis manages to defuse his pessimism with comic relief. Although a story told from the perspective of a dead man may be old hat now, in 1881 it was considered avant-garde and it has still managed to hold up to the ultimate test – the passage of time.  Travelers can get a new perspective on life before their Rio de Janeiro tour, which is the setting of this famous literary masterpiece.

Life in the Peruvian Andes is a common theme for Vargas Llosa

Life in the Peruvian Andes is a common theme for Vargas Llosa. Photograph: Matthew Barker 2010

Death in the Andes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru

Both famed and prolific, Mario Vargas Llosa is easily one of the most well-known and talented South American writers. He also once punched his former friend Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the face to the delight of literary lovers worldwide who still enjoy the image of writers as brawling, passionate lunatics. In the center of Death in the Andes, a social critique thinly disguised as a detective thriller, is Corporal Lituma, Vargas Llosa’s main character, from the northern town of Piura sent to the mountains to investigate the strange disappearances occurring in this small Andean village. What initially seems like an open and shut case becomes a monumental mystery of epic proportions where myth and legends seem just as real as facts and political upheavals. Although you won’t be punching anyone or investigating murders on your Peru vacation (at least if we have anything to do with it) perhaps you can learn more about the legends and myths which create the rich cultural fabric of the Andes.

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, Alvaro Mutis, all of South America

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, written by Colombian author Alvaro Mutis, has one of the best protagonists ever written, Maqroll the Gaviero, who is constantly compared to Don Quixote because of his unrealistic undertakings.  Full of love affairs, strong friendships, crazy characters, and evocative descriptions, this hefty novel is a good book to bring with you on your trip as it may take you a good few weeks to get through the 700 plus pages. Universal in thought, regional in its various settings, and wildly entertaining, this book is a great glimpse into Latin American heroes.

Custom tours of all these destinations and more can be arranged.  Please contact us to speak to one of our travel advisors for more information.

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Challen is a contributing writer for our travel blog.

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