Reading is a fantastic way to work on your Spanish skills! Take a look at these recommendations for famous Spanish authors by Fairfax, CA tutor Jason N. before you head to the bookstore…
Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the world. For native English-speakers, learning Spanish requires the constant input and output of the four main manifestations of language: speaking, listening, writing, and reading. One of the most intimate ways to connect with a language is through its literature. Reading enables you to breathe the language, to feel the language, and to deeply connect with it. Literature also contains essential phrases and vocabulary that uniquely capture the political and social context in which a piece was written, in addition to other cultural nuances. There are many quintessential famous Spanish authors, but for the sake of this article, I will focus on the five who I’ve studied personally and who are ubiquitous in academic circles.
1. Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel García Márquez (“Gabo”) was a Colombian short-story writer and journalist. He is most renowned for spreading “magical realism” in Latin America, which incorporates magical elements into literature, as if they were part of normal life. Gabo’s most popular texts are “El amor en los tiempos de cólera” (“Love in Times of Colera”), a romantic tale of a man saving his heart for his first love for more than 50 years, and “Cien años de soledad” (“100 years of Solitude”), which narrates life in a “mythical” city called Macondo, representing a utopian Colombia, discovered by the father of one of its local families. It was translated in 37 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies!
2. Pablo Neruda
Pablo Neruda was a Chilean political writer and poet, whose rise to fame began in his teenage years, unlike most authors who don’t become famous until they’re much older or deceased. Gabo often paid homage to Neruda, as Neruda frequently advocated for social justice in the mist of rampant political corruption and exploitation of the working class in his poems. Neruda’s works were also romantic and poignant. Among his most applauded poems is “Oda al amor” (“Anthem to Love”), which philosophizes love as torturous, beautiful, and necessary for a “full life” and adult maturity.
3. Carlos Fuentes
Carlos Fuentes was a Mexican essayist. He was coined as “one of the most admired Spanish writers in the Spanish-speaking world” by “The New York Times”. His best-known publication is “La muerte de Artemio Cruz” (“The death of Artemio Cruz”), which documents a soldier’s rise to power and wealth via corruption and exploitation during the Mexican Revolution. This novel was one of the first to reveal how the spread of imperialism, capitalism, and “Americanization” to developing countries like Mexico negatively affected the working class in 1960s, which highlights why Fuentes is considered one of the most ambitious and controversial authors.
4. Isabel Allende
Isabel Allende is a Chilean author who usually celebrates the lives of hard-working, brave, admirable, and noble women in her novels. She draws on her personal experience and incorporates magical realism into her works, similar to Márquez. Her quintessential novel is “La casa de los espírutus” (“The House of the Spirits”), which tells the story of two women across a family of four generations. It exposes a flavor of culture and political milieu in Chile during the 1980s. It’s not written chronologically and was actually turned down by several Spanish publishers before becoming a global phenomenon. Isabel’s tenacity demonstrates she clearly practiced what she preached!
5. Miguel de Cervantes
Lastly, another famous Spanish author to note is poet, playwright, and novelist Miguel de Cervantes. He wrote arguably the most well-known and universally-assigned reading in Spanish and is often deemed the Shakespeare of Spanish literature. His archetypal novel “Don Quixote” was the first European novel ever written. It’s satiric, featuring a “madman” as a hero who exemplifies and admires “everything great,” elucidates chivalry, and contrasts himself with a low self-esteem “sidekick” character. Aside from authoring this timeless text among others, Cervantes popularized the saying, “Por la muestra se conoce el paño” (“The proof is in the pudding”).
As you can see, there is plenty of juicy literature that can help you connect with the Spanish language. While it can be tempting to purchase the translated English version, these works are hardly the same. Much is lost in translation (even if the translator is competent), and one of the most important parts of learning a language is connecting with its literature! Despite the difficult phrases and vocabulary, I encourage you to take the plunge — get the book in Spanish, so you will be forced to fine-tune your skills, expand your vocabulary, and develop a cultural acumen of Spanish-speaking countries. Want to dig even deeper? A Spanish tutor can help you decipher complex excerpts, and work with you to improve your skills further.
Jason N. tutors English and Spanish in Fairfax, CA. He majored in Spanish at UC Davis, lived in Mexico for 3 years where he completed a Master’s degree in Counseling, and studied Spanish Literature and Psychology at the University of Costa Rica. Learn more about Jason here!
Photo by Kenny Stoltz