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Nine Possible Journeys – Temporal and Spatial – Through Literature


Reading lets us re-examine what we think we know about the culture of any country.

Of the many inventions people have devised for that simple yet complex task of acquiring knowledge, one of the most effective is literature. An expression such as it is, of how a person experiences reality, it often extends our horizons in ways that let us see the new and look again at the overlooked. What we think we know, and what is really offered to us from a different perspective, is thus renewed. And that allows us to discover perspectives we’d as yet never even considered.

Literature has always been an ideal method for “traveling” and getting closer to other cultures. Beyond specific genres explicitly related to such a transfer, almost any story set outside of our immediate reality involves a trip to areas otherwise alien to us. Although we don’t move physically, there’s a kind of spiritual or mental journey, as though for a moment we were looking with different eyes at the world from other coordinates.

Following this principle, below are some suggestions for authors and titles which contribute to the breadth of the horizons we can point to. The selection follows a comparative criterion: we’re recommending classic works from each national culture, along with another more contemporary. Whosoever should follow both paths may well realize the changes that have taken place there over time. It often happens that in thinking of a country, its society, or its way of life, we ​​tend to have fixed impressions, sometimes idealized, or perhaps the fruits of ideas with no clear origins and which we don’t always question.

Argentine literature is home to writers who’ve always wondered about the nature of their country, their nationality, and their culture. Even Borges, cosmopolitan as he was, came to do the same. From Adán Buenosayres to the novels of Manuel Puig, Argentine themes run rich through the country’s literary production.

What to read?
Glosa, (or The Sixty-Five Years of Washington), Juan José Saer.
Como Desaparecer Completamente (How to disappear completely), Mariana Enríquez.

One of the great moments in Austrian literature was, paradoxically, at precisely the time when the Austro-Hungarian Empire came to an end, between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. The constellation of Austrian writers includes Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig, Robert Musil, and Rainer Maria Rilke, among several others. In more recent years, perhaps the most relevant name has been that of Elfriede Jelinek, who won the 2004 Nobel Prize for Literature.

What to read?
Letter from an Unknown Woman, Stefan Zweig.
Wonderful, Wonderful Times, Elfriede Jelinek.

The patriarch of Colombian literature, undoubtedly, is Gabriel García Márquez. He drew an indelible portrait of the South American country with an unparalleled singularity: its connection with the Caribbean and an exuberant culture. When reading García Márquez, it’s always worth remembering this detail.

What to read?
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez.
Oblivion: A Memoir, Héctor Abad Faciolince.

Chilean literature is one of the most fruitful of all Hispanic literary cultures. The country has been a fertile field for poets and novelists and perhaps that’s why the literary payroll is so dazzling.

What to read?
Distant Star, Roberto Bolaño.
Ways of Going Home, Alejandro Zambra.

Full of contrasts, this complex country’s history can be followed through the development of its intellectual vein. Unlike other countries, American society had to be invented almost simultaneous with its affirmation as a country of capital importance.

What to read?
Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Lost City Radio, Daniel Alarcón.

French literature has always been careful to maintain its own canon. It’s quite possible that when thinking about it we have in mind the names of, for example, Balzac, Baudelaire, Dumas, Victor Hugo or some others. Against that “classical” image, it’s also possible to pose another which allows us to see the currents circulating through France’s contemporary reality.

What to read?
A Man Asleep, Georges Perec.
The Golden Droplet, Michel Tournier.

United Kingdom
Another of the world’s great literary traditions, English letters abound in acute authors who’ve taken their own culture from just enough distance to offer us a fair, accurate perspective.

What to read?
The Man Who Was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton.
White Teeth, Zadie Smith.

To the collective imagination, Japan is seen as the “land of the rising Sun.” As such, it’s often understood as a distant, enigmatic culture. But how much beyond this vague idea do we know of Japan? Maybe it’s time to test our own notions.

What to read?
Hiroshima Notes, Kenzaburo Oé.
After the Quake, Haruki Murakami.


The diversity of the Mexican landscape has found a specific reflection in its literature. For the identity issues that occupied a good part of its 20th century writing, its writing has moved ever towards the country’s contemporary concerns.

What to read?
Pedro Páramo, Juan Rulfo.
Hurricane Season, Fernanda Melchor.

This list is, of course, hardly exhaustive. It might also be taken as a method for not just reading but above all, for knowing new places, in the sense that Marcel Proust described:

“The real journey of discovery is not to look for new landscapes, but to have new eyes.”

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