Short Stories by Latin American Women: The Magic and the Real


I missed the so-called” Latin American boom” of the ’60s and ’70s. I was not seduced by magic realism.  In fact, I did not finish Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude on a beach vacation in Mexico where I got the worst sunburn of my life.  ( I wasn’t happy till I found a bookstore in Veracruz.)  It wasn’t until  years later that I discovered the surreal stories of Borges.  Then I fell in love with  Garcia Marquez,  Julio Cortazar, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz.

I realized recently I have read only a  few Latin American women writers; in the last decade, only the brilliant Isabel Allende and Angelica Gorodischer, the Argentine science fiction writer who has been translated by Ursula K. Le Guin, come to mind.

And then I found this stunning anthology, Short Stories by Latin American Women:  The Magic and the Real, edited by Celia Correas de Zapata.  It includes the work of 31 writers, among them Allende, Clarice Lispector, and  Josefina Pla.   The stories are so marvelous that I tried to find their books.  Very few of these wrtiers have been translated.

Men have traditionally dominated Latin American literature.  And I wonder if that is still true of the translators.

This book is a gem:  at the end, there are short biographies of all the authors and translators. Isabel Allende writes in the preface:  “For women in South America, setting down a short story is like screaming out loud; it breaks the rules, violates the code of silence into which we were born.  Through these stories, each author selected by Dr. Zapata shouts out defiantly and reveals our experience to the world.”

Allende’s short story, “An Act of Vengeance” is my favorite. Her always colorful, poetic language is interwoven seamlessly with a plot made vivid by magic realism.    The style reminds me of that of Louise Erdrich, and the opening sentence is worth the price of the book.

On the glorious noonday when Dulce Rosa Orellano was crowned with the jasmines of Carnival Queen, the mothers of the other candidates murmured that it was unfair for her to win just because she was the only daughter of the most powerful man in the entire province, Senator Anselmo Orellano.

Dulce Rosa is beautiful, not so much physically as for her charm, grace, and infectious happiness.  Tales of her beauty have spread, and poets in distant cities praise her. Even the guerilla Tadeo Cespedes  has heard of her, but never dreams he’ll meet her.  And then Tadeo raids the town of Santa Theresa with 120 men, and kills  the senator, who is the last man standing.  The sight of Dulce Rosa drives Tadeo into a frenzy, and he rapes her. As she washes off his semen, she vows she will get revenge.  Thirty years go by…and the plot twists and turns.

In  “Culinary Lesson,” Roario Castellanos’ humorous monologue is reminiscent of a Dorothy Parker story mixed with the musings in Sue Kaufman’s feminist classic, The Diary of a Mad Housewife.  The heroine cannot cook, and cannot understand the cookbooks, and I empathize.  In Rosario Ferre’s “A Poisoned Tale,” a fairy tale book turns out to be lethal for an evil stepmother.  In “Blame the Tlaxcaltes,” a wretched housewife lives in two different times, with two different husbands, and only the maid understands she does not belong in the present.

I could go on, on, and on, but you’ll have to read it.  I  am giving it to everyone for Christmas.

And it’s Women in Translation Month.  Finally, something I can get behind!

8 thoughts on “Short Stories by Latin American Women: The Magic and the Real

  1. I may say for sure that “One hundred years of solitude” is the book of my life. While one of the shories I love the most is ” Two Words” from Isabelle Allende’s Eva Luna. Once charmed by magic realism, you can never do without it. 🙋


    • Oh, I love it that One Hundred Years of Solitude is the book of your life! I got over my magic realism phobia, thank goodness, and am completely hooked on Garcia Marquez. In fact, I now am surprised when there is NOT magic realism in a Latin American novel.


  2. I too am sadly lacking in knowledge of South and Latin American — indeed authors writing in
    Spanish out of a Hispanic culture. I can hardly cite names that’s how little has stayed in my mind of what I’ve read. It’s mostly been short stories or essays in these periodicals about poets, very occasionally a novel — by Allende or another woman. I don’t know why. When I was teaching Freshman English, I’d assign these remarkable marvelous stories in some of the anthologies translated fro the Spanish and loved them. Why I didn’t go on and buy a book I don’t know except in those days (mid-1990s) I was teaching four courses and had not much time. I know I have some authors — like a row of books by Borges because Jim read these people — as he did some of the French schools of prose fiction which drop realism (like the books by the man who wrote one without an e). So it might be I too am not keen on magic realism: I want to suspend disbelief and lose myself in the book. How far can one stretch if one wants to read up and write about topics too (like women artists). Then novels are useless except when they are imaginative biographical or historical ones.

    I too would like to join in on these “months” of reading this or that author or kind of book and never seem to be able to do it. I do best with small listservs where we read just the one book together, a few people and no elaborate blog is required 🙂 But I miss out. The day has only so many hours and I tire and watch wonderful movies at night too — now I’ve got Netflix streaming I’ve watched The Crown through twice 🙂


    • No one can do everything! Especially when it’s so hard to find these writers in translation. I did go on to read Garcia Marquez later and loved his magic realism. Very poetic. But there are also realists and stunning poets. But I’m embarrassed to say I never even noticed the women writers were missing.

      We are really of the book group generation! I don’t know how to find the bloggers who are participating in Women in Translation. I came across a link at some blog and perhaps will find it again this month. So it’s participation without discussion? So maybe I’m not participating? It’s beyond me!


  3. I have the anthology so will immediately move it to my TBR next pile. Thanks.

    The novels of Clarice Lispector have recently been retranslated and there is also a very thick book of her short stories available. I’d recommend Near to the Wild Heart for starters. It’s breathtaking.


    • I hope you enjoy the anthology. I was stunned that I’d never heard of the writers. Maybe I could learn Spanish for reading. Well, I do not think I will, so I must settle for translations.

      Thank you for the recommendation!I I did love Lispector’s story in the anthology,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s