Books Set In Argentina: Argentine Novels
My first glimpse of Argentina was the staggering view of the Andes while flying from Santiago to Mendoza. Once there, I was lucky to experience the magic of the largest wine region in South America, located at the foothills of the Andes. This list of books set in Argentina includes a wide range of works to help capture the breadth of this incredible country. From classics to contemporary fiction, these books span from bustling Buenos Aires to remote Patagonia and beyond (including my beloved Mendoza!) 🇦🇷
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This list of books set in Argentina largely focuses on works in translation, including works from many classic Argentine writers. Jorge Luis Borges is arguably the most famous. Renowned for his short stories that can be described as philosophical literature; his collections include Fictions, The Aleph and Other Stories and Labyrinths.
Adolfo Bioy Casares is renowned for his inventive works The Invention of Morel and Asleep in the Sun. While Ernesto Sabato, an acclaimed novelist (also an essayist, physicist and painter) published three novels, including The Tunnel and On Heroes and Tombs.
Julio Cortazar was a central figure in the Latin American Boom, a literary movement that saw the work of a group of young writers garner international recognition. His most famous work is Hopscotch, which can be read in various sequences of chapters, resulting in multiple endings. Some of his other translated works include The Winners, Blow-Up and Other Stories and 62: A Model Kit.
Manuel Puig was also a part of the Latin American Boom and wove elements of popular culture into his novels, such as Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, Heartbreak Tango, The Buenos Aires Affair and Kiss of the Spider Woman. The latter also became a widely acclaimed film.
Contemporary Argentine Authors
In contemporary literature a number of Argentine authors have been nominated for the International Man Booker Prize. The first to be long-listed was Tomás Eloy Martínez in 2005. His books set in Argentina include bestsellers Santa Evita and The Tango Singer.
César Aira was long-listed in 2015. An unconventional and prolific author, he has published over one hundred novels, stories and essays. His works here include Ema, the Captive, How I Became a Nun, Shantytown and The Linden Tree.
Samanta Schweblin has been long-listed three times for her works; including her first novel Fever Dream in 2017, her short-story collection Mouthful of Birds in 2019 and her imaginative dystopian novel, Little Eyes in 2020 (which is set across the globe).
Ariana Harwicz was born in Buenos Aires, now lives in France and was long-listed in 2018 for Die, My Love. While the novel is not set in Argentina, it is a largely autobiographical novel about a new mother in the French countryside.
Gabriela Cabezón Cámara was shortlisted in 2020 for the historical fantasy novel The Adventures of China Iron, which is a retelling of Argentina’s national epic poem Martín Fierro from a feminist point of view.
Books Set In Argentina: The Shortlist
If I could only choose a handful of books set in Argentina from the much longer list below:
- Fictions (Ficciones) by Jorge Luis Borges
- Hopscotch (Rayuela) by Julio Cortázar
- Kiss of the Spider Woman (El Beso de la Mujer Araña) by Manuel Puig
- How I Became a Nun (Cómo Me Hice Monja) by César Aira
- Fever Dream (Distancia de Rescate) by Samanta Schweblin
- Things We Lost in the Fire (Las Cosas Que Perdimos en el Fuego) by Mariana Enríquez
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Books Set In Argentina
1. The Seven Madmen (Los Siete Locos) by Roberto Arlt, 1929
First published in 1929, The Seven Madmen perfectly captures the conflict of Argentine society, at a crucial moment in its history. Arlt’s exploration of the still mysterious city of Buenos Aires, its street slang, crowded tenements, crazy juxtapositions, and anguish are at the core of this novel. In this seething, hostile city, Erdosain wanders the streets, trying to decipher the teeming life going on behind dark doors. He searches, literally, for his soul that is causing him so much pain, wondering what it might look like.
2. The Invention of Morel (La Invención de Morel) by Adolfo Bioy Casares, 1940
Note: this is set on an island in Polynesia, but is by a notable Argentine author.
Jorge Luis Borges declared The Invention of Morel a masterpiece of plotting. Set on a mysterious island, it is both a story of suspense and a bizarre romance, in which every detail is at once crystal clear and deeply mysterious. Inspired by Bioy Casares’s fascination with the movie star Louise Brooks, The Invention of Morel is a classic of modern Latin-American literature that also changed the history of film.
3. Fictions (Ficciones) by Jorge Luis Borges, 1944
Please note: this is a collection of short stories by an Argentine author.
The seventeen pieces in Fictions demonstrate the whirlwind of Borges’s genius and mirror the precision and potency of his intellect and inventiveness, his piercing irony, his skepticism, and his obsession with fantasy. Borges sends us on a journey into a compelling, bizarre, and profoundly resonant realm; we enter the fearful sphere of Pascal’s abyss, the surreal and literal labyrinth of books, and the iconography of eternal return. To enter the worlds in Fictions is to enter the mind of Jorge Luis Borges, wherein lies Heaven, Hell, and everything else in between.
4. The Aleph and Other Stories (El Aleph) by Jorge Luis Borges, 1945
Please note: this is a collection of short stories by an Argentine author.
Full of philosophical puzzles and supernatural surprises, these stories contain some of Borges’s most fully realized human characters. With uncanny insight, he takes us inside the minds of an unrepentant Nazi, an imprisoned Mayan priest, fanatical Christian theologians, a woman plotting vengeance on her father’s “killer,” and a man awaiting his assassin in a Buenos Aires guest house.
5. The Tunnel (El Túnel) by Ernesto Sabato, 1948
Infamous for the murder of Maria Iribarne, the artist Juan Pablo Castel is now writing a detailed account of his relationship with the victim from his prison cell: obsessed from the first moment he saw her examining one of his paintings, Castel had become fixated on her over the next months and fantasized over how they might meet again. When he happened upon her one day, a relationship was formed which swiftly convinced him of their mutual love. But Castel’s growing paranoia would lead him to destroy the one thing he truly cared about.
6. Adam Buenosayres (Adán Buenosayres) by Leopoldo Marechal, 1948
A modernist urban novel in the tradition of James Joyce, Adam Buenosayres is a tour-de-force that does for Buenos Aires what Carlos Fuentes did for Mexico City or José Lezama Lima did for Havana – chronicles a city teeming with life in all its clever and crass, rude and intelligent forms. Employing a range of literary styles and a variety of voices, Leopoldo Marechal parodies and celebrates Argentina’s most brilliant literary and artistic generation, the martinfierristas of the 1920s, among them Jorge Luis Borges.
7. The Winners (Los Premios) by Julio Cortázar, 1960
The winners of a state lottery, a cross section of the citizens of Buenos Aires, have received tickets for a mysterious luxury cruise. Summoned to meet in a popular café and escorted under the cover of darkness to the secret location of their ship, they embark without knowing where they are headed. Within hours the ship stops; the passengers are informed that a disease has broken out among the crew and that they will be confined to a small section of the ship. In suspense, the passengers mull over their pasts and the future, form attachments and suspicions, tell secrets, explore desires. But as some of them merely accept their confinement, others are increasingly driven to confront the crew, leading to an outbreak of violence that seems both inevitable and pointless.
8. On Heroes and Tombs (Sobre Héroes y Tumbas) by Ernesto Sabato, 1961
On Heroes and Tombs is the story of Alejandra, the beautiful daughter of a prominent Argentine family, and the three men whose lives are tragically entwined with hers. There is her father, Fernando Vidal, obsessed with the blind, with evil, and most of all with Alejandra. There is Martín, her young lover, whose only redemption is his decision to let go of his love. And there is Bruno, philosopher, writer, friend of Alejandra’s family, who must face his love for the mother through his relationship with the daughter. Set against the background of the turbulent Argentine social and political upheaval of the 1950s, this is a masterwork by one of the most imaginative and original talents of the 20th century.
9. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges, 1962
Note: this collection has crossovers with some of Borges other works, such as ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ which also appears in Fictions.
Jorge Luis Borges’s Labyrinths is a collection of short stories and essays showcasing one of Latin America’s most influential and imaginative writers. Enter Borges’ timeless worlds, where the ideal and the abstract challenge reality; where philosophical paradoxes and endless possibilities abound, and wisps of dream and magic are layered in eternal reoccurrence. To read Labyrinths is to glide through time, space, mythology and philosophy, as Borges’ characters struggle towards devastating discovery.
10. Hopscotch (Rayuela) by Julio Cortázar, 1963
Horacio Oliveira is an Argentinian writer who lives in Paris with his mistress, La Maga, surrounded by a loose-knit circle of bohemian friends who call themselves “the Club.” A child’s death and La Maga’s disappearance put an end to his life of empty pleasures and intellectual acrobatics, and prompt Oliveira to return to Buenos Aires, where he works by turns as a salesman, a keeper of a circus cat which can truly count, and an attendant in an insane asylum. Hopscotch is the dazzling, freewheeling account of Oliveira’s astonishing adventures.
11. Betrayed by Rita Hayworth (La Traición de Rita Hayworth) by Manuel Puig, 1968
Manuel Puig’s celebrated first novel is a startling anatomy of a small town in thrall to its own petty lusts, betrayals, scandals, thefts, and gossip – but most of all, to the movies. Centering around a boy named Toto, privy to the town’s secrets and always eager to fill in the ugly or upsetting moments of his childhood with Hollywood – inspired fantasy, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth is a symphony of disappointed, comic, bitter, and bawdy voices, all hemmed in by life’s refusal to behave like the silver screen, and is perhaps the funniest and most honest coming-of-age story of its time.
12. Blow-Up and Other Stories by Julio Cortázar, 1968
Note: these short stories were written by an Argentine writer.
A young girl spends her summer vacation in a country house where a tiger roams. A man reading a mystery finds out too late that he is the murderer’s victim. In the fifteen stories collected here – including “Blow-Up,” which was the basis for Michelangelo Antonioni’s film of the same name – Julio Cortazar explores the boundary where the everyday meets the mysterious, perhaps even the terrible.
13. 62: A Model Kit (62/Modelo Para Armar) by Julio Cortázar, 1968
Note: this novel was written by an Argentine writer.
Cortázar’s classic 1968 novel about an unnamed European “city”. 62: A Model Kit is Julio Cortazar’s brilliant, intricate blueprint for life in the so-called “City.” As one of the main characters, the intellectual Juan, puts it: to one person the City might appear as Paris, to another it might be where one goes upon getting out of bed in Barcelona; to another it might appear as a beer hall in Oslo. This cityscape, as Carlos Fuentes describes it, ‘seems drawn up by the Marx Brothers with an assist from Bela Lugosi!’ It is the meeting place for a wild assortment of bohemians in a novel described by The New York Times as ‘deeply touching, enjoyable, beautifully written and fascinatingly mysterious.’
14. Heartbreak Tango (Boquitas Pintadas) by Manuel Puig, 1969
Awash in small-town gossip, petty jealousy, and intrigues, Manuel Puig’s Heartbreak Tango is a comedic assault on the fault lines between the disappointments of the everyday world, and the impossible promises of commercials, pop songs, and movies. This melancholy and hilarious tango concerns the many women in orbit around Juan Carlos Etchepare, an impossibly beautiful Lothario wasting away ever-so-slowly from consumption, while those who loved and were spurned by him move on into workaday lives and unhappy marriages.
15. The Buenos Aires Affair by Manuel Puig, 1973
Manuel Puig’s masterful and ironic detective novel concerns the abduction of a woman, an impending murder, and the dim memories of a thousand old glamour queens – Garbo, Dietrich, Veronica Lake, Rita Hayworth – all combining to make a powerful portrait of two decidedly unglamorous lives: Gladys Hebe D’Onofrio, a lonely 35-year-old sculptor, tormented by her fantasies and perpetually in search of the ideal lover; and Leo Druscovich, an outwardly confident and successful art critic, deeply troubled by a terrible guilt that surfaces in his repeated sexual failures.
16. Asleep in the Sun (Dormir Al Sol) by Adolfo Bioy Casares, 1973
Lucio, a normal man in a normal (nosy) city neighborhood with normal problems with his in-laws (ever-present) and job (he lost it) finds he has a new problem on his hands: his beloved wife, Diana. She’s been staying out till all hours of the night and grows more disagreeable by the day. Should Lucio have Diana committed to the Psychiatric Institute, as her friend the dog trainer suggests? Before Lucio can even make up his mind, Diana is carted away by the mysterious head of the institute. Never mind, Diana’s sister, who looks just like Diana – and yet is nothing like her – has moved in.
17. The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene, 1973
In a provincial Argentinean town, Charley Fortnum, a British consul with dubious authority and a weakness for drink, is kidnapped by Paraguayan revolutionaries who have mistaken him for the American ambassador. Dr. Eduardo Plarr, a local physician with his own divided loyalties, serves as the negotiator between the rebels and the authorities. These fumbling characters play out an absurd drama of failure, hope, love, and betrayal against a backdrop of political chaos. The Honorary Consul is both a gripping novel of suspense and a penetrating psychological and sociological study of personal and political corruption.
18. Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read, 1974
On October 12, 1972, a plane carrying a team of young rugby players crashed into the remote, snow-peaked Andes. Out of the forty-five original passengers and crew, only sixteen made it off the mountain alive. For ten excruciating weeks they suffered deprivations beyond imagining, confronting nature head-on at its most furious and inhospitable. And to survive, they were forced to do what would have once been unthinkable. This is their story – one of the most astonishing true adventures of the twentieth century.
19. Kiss of the Spider Woman (El Beso de la Mujer Araña) by Manuel Puig, 1976
Sometimes they talk all night long. In the still darkness of their cell, Molina re-weaves the glittering and fragile stories of the film he loves, and the cynical Valentin listens. Valentin believes in the just cause which makes all suffering bearable; Molina believes in the magic of love which makes all else endurable. Each has always been alone, and always – especially now – in danger of betrayal. But in cell 7 each surrenders to the other something of himself that he has never surrendered before.
20. In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, 1977
An exhilarating look at a place that still retains the exotic mystery of a far-off, unseen land, Bruce Chatwin’s exquisite account of his journey through Patagonia teems with evocative descriptions, remarkable bits of history, and unforgettable anecdotes. Fueled by an unmistakable lust for life and adventure and a singular gift for storytelling, Chatwin treks through “the uttermost part of the earth” – that stretch of land at the southern tip of South America, where bandits were once made welcome – in search of almost forgotten legends, the descendants of Welsh immigrants, and the log cabin built by Butch Cassidy. An instant classic upon publication in 1977, In Patagonia is a masterpiece that has cast a long shadow upon the literary world.
21. Tomorrow I’ll Say, Enough (Mañana Digo Basta) by Silvina Bullrich, 1978
Note: this is about an Argentine character staying in Uruguay.
A widowed Buenos Aires artist celebrates her 49th birthday by spending the summer alone in a remote seaside village to escape social pressures and her restrictive family. With humor and irony, she describes the incessant visits by her three daughters and their emotional and financial demands. Prompted by her time of reflection as well as the periods of interruption, she makes several important decisions about her future.
22. The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas by Paul Theroux, 1979
Please note: this book is not solely focused on Argentina, but travels throughout the Americas, including Argentina.
Award-winning travel writer Paul Theroux invites you aboard The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas; packed with powerful descriptions and portraits of the many colours of humanity, it is an unforgettable read. Beginning his journey in Boston, where he boarded the subway commuter train, and catching trains of all kinds on the way, Paul Theroux tells of his voyage from ice-bound Massachusetts and Illinois to the arid plateau of Argentina’s most southerly tip.
23. Artificial Respiration (Respiración Artificial) by Ricardo Piglia, 1980
Acclaimed as one of the most important Latin American novels in recent decades, Artificial Respiration is a stunning introduction for English readers to the fiction of Ricardo Piglia. Published in Argentina in 1981, it was written at a time when thousands of Argentine citizens “disappeared” during the government’s attempt to create an authoritarian state. In part a reflection on one of the most repressive and tragic times in Argentine history, this is one of those rare works of fiction in which multiple philosophical, political, and narrative dimensions are all powerfully and equally matched.
24. Ema, the Captive (Ema, La Cautiva) by César Aira, 1981
In nineteenth-century Argentina, Ema, a delicate woman of indeterminate origins, is captured by soldiers and taken, along with her newborn babe, to live as a concubine in a crude fort on the very edges of civilization. The trip is appalling (deprivations and rapes prevail along the way), yet the real story commences once Ema arrives at the fort, where she takes on a succession of lovers among the soldiers and Indians, leading to a brave and grand entrepreneurial experiment. As is usual with Aira’s work, the wonder of the book is in the details of customs, beauty, and language, and the curious, perplexing reality of human nature.
25. Other Weapons (Cambio de Armas) by Luisa Valenzuela, 1982
Luisa Valenzuela is a post-‘Boom’ novelist and short story writer. Her writing is characterized by an experimental, avant-garde style which questions hierarchical social structures from a feminist perspective. She is best known for her work written in response to the dictatorship of the 1970s in Argentina. This work combines a powerful critique of dictatorship with an examination of patriarchal forms of social organization and the power structures which inhere in human sexuality and gender relationships.
26. Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer, 1983
This is the first of Argentinean writer Angélica Gorodischer’s nineteen award-winning books to be translated into English. In eleven chapters, Kalpa Imperial’s multiple storytellers relate the story of a fabled nameless empire which has risen and fallen innumerable times. Fairy tales, oral histories and political commentaries are all woven tapestry-style into Kalpa Imperial: beggars become emperors, democracies become dictatorships, and history becomes legends and stories.
27. The Little School: Tales of Disappearance and Survival by Alicia Partnoy, 1986
One of Argentina’s 30,000 “disappeared”, Alicia Partnoy was abducted from her home by secret police and taken to a concentration camp where she was tortured, and where most of the other prisoners were killed. Smuggled out and published anonymously, The Little School is Partnoy’s memoir of her disappearance and imprisonment.
28. He Who Searches by Luisa Valenzuela, 1987
A professor of semiotics who doubles as a psychologist in Barcelona visits (always in disguise) a prostitute in the early morning hours on Mondays and Thursdays in order to analyze her without her knowing it. The story moves from Barcelona to Mexico to Buenos Aires, but above all it is about Argentina: its recent history, its 30,000 missing children, its stunned middle class, its writers in exile. He Who Searches is multifaceted in structure, combining narrative references to old-fashioned storytelling, realism, psychoanalysis, feminism, politics, and suspense, all of them tinged with a patina of eroticism that reflects a feminist perspective.
29. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto Che Guevara, 1992
In January 1952, two young men from Buenos Aires set out to explore South America on ‘La Poderosa’, the Powerful One: a 500cc Norton. One of them was the twenty-three-year-old Che Guevara. Written eight years before the Cuban Revolution, these are Che’s diaries – full of disasters and discoveries, high drama, low comedy and laddish improvisations. During his travels through Argentina, Chile, Peru and Venezuela, Che’s main concerns are where the next drink is coming from, where the next bed is to be found and who might be around to share it.
30. How I Became a Nun (Cómo Me Hice Monja) by César Aira, 1993
Intense and perfect, this invented narrative of childhood experience bristles with dramatic humor at each stage of growing up: a first ice cream, school, reading, games, friendship. The novel begins in Aira’s hometown, Coronel Pringles. As self-awareness grows, the story rushes forward in a torrent of anecdotes which transform a world of uneventful happiness into something else: the anecdote becomes adventure, and adventure, fable, and then legend. Between memory and oblivion, reality and fiction, Cesar Aira’s How I Became a Nun retains childhood’s main treasures: the reality of fable and the delirium of invention.
31. Santa Evita by Tomás Eloy Martínez, 1995
Tomas Eloy Martinez has reassembled the story of the corpse of Eve Peron in Santa Evita, and in the process, produced a riveting, rich book that not only tells the tale of one of the more bizarre sagas in the history of South American politics, but that also gets to the heart of the age-old human impulse to create myths and tell stories. Among the great corpses of our age are Lenin, Mao Tse-tung and Stalin. But no corpse engendered as much intrigue as that of Eva Peron. Elevated to near sainthood in Argentina after her death in 1952, her perfectly preserved corpse was seized by the Argentine Army following the ouster of her husband in 1955.
32. The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibín, 1996
In Argentina, in the time of the Generals, the streets are empty at night, and people have trained themselves not to see. Richard Garay lives with his mother, hiding his sexuality from her and from society. Stifled by his job, Richard is willing to take chances, both sexually and professionally. But Argentina is changing, and as his country edges toward peace, Richard tentatively begins a love affair. The result is a powerful, brave, and poignant novel of sex, death, and the difficulties of connecting one’s inner life with the outside world.
33. The Buenos Aires Quintet by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, 1997
Note: this is the 20th book in the Pepe Carvalho detective series.
The Argentine army’s ‘Dirty War’ disappeared 30,000 people, and the last thing Pepe Carvalho wants is to investigate one of the vanished, even if that missing person is his cousin. But blood proves thicker than a fine Mendoza Cabernet Sauvignon, even for a jaded gourmand like Pepe, and so at his family’s request he leaves Barcelona for Buenos Aires. What follows is perhaps Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s masterpiece: a combination white-knuckle investigation and moving psychological travelogue.
34. An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (Un Episodio en la Vida del Pintor Viajero) by César Aira, 2000
An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter is the story of a moment in the life of the German artist Johan Moritz Rugendas. Greatly admired as a master landscape painter, he was advised by Alexander von Humboldt to travel West from Europe to record the spectacular landscapes of Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. Rugendas did in fact become one of the best of the nineteenth-century European painters to venture into Latin America.
35. The Argentina Reader by Gabriela Nouzeilles, 2002
Note: this is a collection by various authors.
Excessively European, refreshingly European, not as European as it looks, struggling to overcome a delusion that it is European. Argentina – in all its complexity – has often been obscured by variations of the “like Europe and not like the rest of Latin America” cliché. The Argentina Reader deliberately breaks from that viewpoint. This essential introduction to Argentina’s history, culture, and society provides a richer, more comprehensive look at one of the most paradoxical of Latin American nations: a nation that used to be among the richest in the world, with the largest middle class in Latin America, yet one that entered the twenty-first century with its economy in shambles and its citizenry seething with frustration.
36. Enduring Patagonia by Gregory Crouch, 2002
Patagonia is a strange and terrifying place, a vast tract of land shared by Argentina and Chile where the violent weather spawned over the southern Pacific charges through the Andes with gale-force winds, roaring clouds, and stinging snow. In seven expeditions to this windswept edge of the Southern Hemisphere, Gregory Crouch has braved weather, gravity, fear, and doubt to try himself in the alpine crucible of Patagonia. In language both stirring and lyrical, he evokes the perils of every handhold, perils that illustrate the crucial balance between physical danger and mental agility that allows for the most important part of any climb, which is not reaching the summit, but getting down alive.
37. Shantytown (La Villa) by César Aira, 2002
Maxi, a middle-class, directionless ox of a young man who helps the trash pickers of Buenos Aires’s shantytown, attracts the attention of a corrupt, trigger-happy policeman who will use anyone – including two innocent teenage girls – to break a drug ring that he believes is operating within the slum. A strange new drug, a brightly lit carousel of a slum, the kindness of strangers, gunplay; like all of Aira’s mesmerising work, is filled with wonder and mad invention.
38. An Open Secret (El Secreto y las Voces) by Carlos Gamerro, 2002
Darío Ezcurra is one of the thousands of Argentinians unlucky enough to be “disappeared” by the military government – murdered by the local chief of police with the complicity of his friends and neighbors. Twenty years later, young Fefe returns to the town where Darío met his fate and attempts to discover how the community let such a crime happen. Lies, excuses, and evasions ensue – desperate attempts to deny the guilty secret of which the whole community is afraid.
39. The Insufferable Gaucho (El Gaucho Insufrible) by Roberto Bolaño, 2003
Please note: this is a collection of short stories, with the title piece set in Argentina.
The Insufferable Gaucho contains tales bent on returning to haunt you. Unpredictable, daring, and highly controlled, yet somehow haywire, a Bolaño story might concern an elusive plagiarist, or an elderly lawyer giving up city life for an improbable return to the family estate, now gone to wrack and ruin.
40. The Linden Tree (El Tilo) by César Aira, 2003
A delightful fictional memoir about César Aira’s small hometown. The narrator, born the same year and now living in the same great city (Buenos Aires) as César Aira, could be the author himself. Beginning with his parents – an enigmatic handsome black father who gathered linden flowers for his sleep-inducing tea and an irrational, crippled mother of European descent – the narrator catalogs memories of his childhood: his friends, his peculiar first job, his many gossiping neighbors, and the landscape and architecture of the provinces.
41. The Tango Singer (El Cantor de Tango) by Tomás Eloy Martínez, 2004
A hypnotic novel in which an American student’s quest to find the greatest living tango singer leads him deep into the labyrinth of Argentina’s past. It is 2001, and inflation is spiraling out of control in Argentina as Bruno Cadogan, an American graduate student specializing in Borges, arrives in Buenos Aires. Cadogan is on the trail of Julio Martel, an elusive tango singer rumored to be even better than Carlos Gardel, the greatest singer of the 1920s and ’30s. Martel has never recorded and his strange, powerful performances, at seemingly arbitrary sites around the city, are always unannounced.
42. The Secret in Their Eyes (La Pregunta de Sus Ojos) by Eduardo Sacheri, 2005
Benjamín Chaparro is a man haunted by his past – a retired detective, he remains obsessed with the decades-old case of the rape and murder of a young woman in her own bedroom. As he revisits the details of the investigation, he is reacquainted with his similarly long, unrequited love for Irene Hornos, then just an intern, now a respected judge. Absorbing and masterfully crafted, The Secret in Their Eyes is a meditation on the effects of the passage of time and unfulfilled desire.
43. The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander, 2005
From its unforgettable opening scene in the darkness of a forgotten cemetery in Buenos Aires, The Ministry of Special Cases casts a powerful spell. In the heart of Argentina’s Dirty War, Kaddish Poznan struggles with a son who won’t accept him; strives for a wife who forever saves him; and spends his nights protecting the good name of a community that denies his existence – and denies a checkered history that only Kaddish holds dear. When the nightmare of the disappeared children brings the Poznan family to its knees, they are thrust into the unyielding corridors of the Ministry of Special Cases, the refuge of last resort.
44. The Buenos Aires Broken Hearts Club by Jessica Morrison, 2007
28-year-old Cassie Moore has always played it safe, living life according to a meticulously organized Master Plan. But when she loses her Perfect Job and finds her fiancé in bed with his ex on the same day, it’s clear that The Plan has failed her. She awakens the next day from a drunken stupor to discover that she’s booked herself on a six-month trip to Buenos Aires. She speaks not a word of Spanish, but she’s already emailed the news to everyone she knows, so there’s no turning back. Once in Buenos Aires, Cassie is reluctantly seduced by this glorious city.
45. A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr, 2008
Note: this is the fifth book in the Bernie Gunther series.
A Quiet Flame opens in 1950. Falsely fingered a war criminal, Bernie Gunther has booked passage to Buenos Aires, lured, like the Nazis whose company he has always despised, by promises of a new life and a clean passport from the Perón government. But Bernie doesn’t have the luxury of settling into his new home and lying low. He is soon pressured by the local police into taking on a case in which a girl has turned up dead, gruesomely mutilated, and another – the daughter of a wealthy German banker – has gone missing. Both crimes seem to connect to an unsolved case Bernie worked on back in Berlin in 1932.
46. All Men Are Liars (Todos Los Hombres Son Mentirosos) by Alberto Manguel, 2008
Note: this is about an Argentine writer who has moved to Spain.
In this gorgeously wrought and imagined novel, an investigative journalist interviews those who knew – or thought they knew – Alejandro Bevilacqua, a brilliant South American writer and author of the masterpiece, In Praise of Lying. Through the diverse voices of those close to Bevilacqua and their divergent portraits of the man at the center of this literary examination of truth, the reader holds the power of final judgment. In All Men Are Liars, Alberto Manguel pay homage to literature’s shapeshifting inventions, in which our own ideas or the world and the people around us are given agency and projected onto these brilliant, virtuoso pages.
47. Savage Theories (Las Teorías Salvajes) by Pola Oloixarac, 2008
Rosa Ostreech, a pseudonym for the novel’s beautiful but self-conscious narrator, carries around a trilingual edition of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, struggles with her thesis on violence and culture, sleeps with a bourgeois former guerrilla, and pursues her elderly professor with a highly charged blend of eroticism and desperation. Elsewhere on campus, Pabst and Kamtchowsky tour the underground scene of Buenos Aires, dabbling in ketamine, group sex, video games, and hacking.
48. Open Door by Iosi Havilio, 2009
When her partner disappears, a young woman drifts towards Open Door, a small town in the Argentinean Pampas named after its psychiatric hospital. She finds herself living with an aging ranch-hand, although a local girl also proves irresistible. Iosi Havilio burst onto the Argentine literary scene after Open Door was highly praised by some of the country’s most influential critics and writers, including Beatriz Sarlo and Rodolfo Fogwill.
49. Departing at Dawn by Gloria Lisé, 2009
March 23, 1976. Berta watches as her lover, Atilio, a union organizer, is thrown from a window to his death on the sidewalk below. The next day, Colonel Jorge Rafael Videla stages a coup d’état and a military dictatorship takes control of Argentina. Though never a part of Atilio’s union efforts, Berta is on a list to be ‘disappeared’ and flees to relatives in the countryside. There she becomes part of the family she knows only from old photographs: Aunt Avelina, who blasts records from an old player; Uncle Nepomuceno, who watches slugs slither in the garden every afternoon; and Uncle Javier, who sits in his tiny grocery store day and night.
50. August (Agosto) by Romina Paula, 2009
Traveling home to rural Patagonia, a young woman grapples with herself as she makes the journey to scatter the ashes of her friend Andrea. Twenty-one-year-old Emilia might still be living, but she’s jaded by her studies and discontent with her boyfriend, and apathetic toward the idea of moving on. Despite the admiration she receives for having relocated to Buenos Aires, in reality, cosmopolitanism and a career seem like empty scams. Instead, she finds her life pathetic. Once home, Emilia stays with Andrea’s parents, wearing the dead girl’s clothes, sleeping in her bed, and befriending her cat.
51. No Place For Heroes (Demasiados Héroes) by Laura Restrepo, 2009
During Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Lorenza and Ramon, two passionate militants opposing Videla’s dictatorship, met and fell in love. Now, Lorenza and her son, Mateo, have come to Buenos Aires to find Ramon, Mateo’s father. Holed up in the same hotel room, mother and son share a common goal, yet are worlds apart on how they perceive it. For Lorenza, who came of age in the political ferment of the ’60s, it is intertwined with her past ideological and emotional anchors, while her postmodernist son, a child of the ’90s who couldn’t care less about politics or ideology, is looking for his actual father – not the idea of a father, but the Ramon of flesh and blood.
52. Microfictions by Ana María Shua, 2009
Note: this is a collection of short stories by an Argentine writer.
Cinderella’s sisters surgically modify their feet to win the prince’s love. A werewolf gathers up enough courage to visit a dentist. A medium trying to reach the afterworld gets a recorded message. A fox and a badger compete to out-fool each other. Whether writing of insomnia from a mosquito’s point of view or showing us what happens after the princess kisses the frog, Ana María Shua, in these fleet and incandescent stories, is nothing if not pithy – except, of course, wildly entertaining. Some as short as a sentence, these microfictions have been selected and translated from four different books. Flashes of insight, cracks of wit, twists of logic, and quirks of language.
53. Slum Virgin (La Virgen Cabeza) by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, 2009
Slum Virgin tells the larger-than-life story of Cleopatra, a transvestite who renounces prostitution after the Virgin Mary appears before her. Following the divine messages she receives, Cleo takes charge of the shantytown she lives in, transforming it into a tiny utopia. Ambitious journalist Quity knows she’s found the story of the year when she hears about it, but her life is changed forever once she steps into the shantytown and finds herself irrevocably seduced by the captivating subject of her article.
54. Mouthful of Birds (Pájaros en la Boca) by Samanta Schweblin, 2010
Note: this is a collection of short stories by an Argentine writer.
The brilliant stories in Mouthful of Birds burrow their way into your psyche and don’t let go. Samanta Schweblin haunts and mesmerizes in this extraordinary collection featuring women on the edge, men turned upside down, the natural world at odds with reality. We think life is one way, but often, it’s not – our expectations for how people act, love, fear can all be upended. Each character in Mouthful of Birds must contend with the unexpected; whether a family coming apart at the seams, a child transforming, a ghostly hellscape or a murder.
55. My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain (El Espíritu de Mis Padres Sigue Subiendo en la Lluvia) by Patricio Pron, 2011
A young writer, living abroad, returns home to his native Argentina to say good-bye to his dying father. In his parents’ house, he finds a cache of documents – articles, maps, photographs – and unwittingly begins to unearth his father’s obsession with the disappearance of a local man. Suddenly he comes face-to-face with the ghosts of Argentina’s dark political past and with the long-hidden memories of his family’s underground resistance against an oppressive military regime.
56. Die, My Love (Matate, Amor) by Ariana Harwicz, 2012
Note: this is included as a notable work by an Argentine author, however the novel itself is set in France.
In a forgotten patch of French countryside, a woman is battling her demons embracing exclusion yet wanting to belong, craving freedom whilst feeling trapped, yearning for family life but at the same time wanting to burn the entire house down. Given surprising leeway by her family for her increasingly erratic behaviour, she nevertheless feels ever more stifled and repressed. Motherhood, womanhood, the banality of love, the terrors of desire, the inexplicable brutality of another person carrying your heart forever Die, My Love faces all this with a raw intensity.
57. The Wind That Lays Waste (El Viento Que Arrasa) by Selva Almada, 2012
A taut, lyrical portrait of four people thrown together on a single day in rural Argentina. The Wind That Lays Waste begins in the great pause before a storm. Reverend Pearson is evangelizing across the Argentinian countryside with Leni, his teenage daughter, when their car breaks down. This act of God or fate leads them to the workshop and home of an aging mechanic called Gringo Brauer and a young boy named Tapioca.
58. Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois, 2013
When Lily Hayes arrives in Buenos Aires for her semester abroad, she is enchanted by everything she encounters: the colorful buildings, the street food, the handsome, elusive man next door. Her studious roommate Katy is a bit of a bore, but Lily didn’t come to Argentina to hang out with other Americans. Five weeks later, Katy is found brutally murdered in their shared home, and Lily is the prime suspect. But who is Lily Hayes? It depends on who’s asking. As the case takes shape – revealing deceptions, secrets, and suspicious DNA – Lily appears alternately sinister and guileless through the eyes of those around her: the media, her family, the man who loves her and the man who seeks her conviction.
59. Optic Nerve (El Nervio Óptico) by María Gainza, 2014
The narrator of Optic Nerve is an Argentinian woman whose obsession is art. The story of her life is the story of the paintings, and painters, who matter to her. Her intimate, digressive voice guides us through a gallery of moments that have touched her. All of these fascinating episodes in art history interact with the narrator’s life in Buenos Aires – her family and work; her loves and losses; her infatuations and disappointments. The effect is of a character refracted by environment, composed by the canvases she studies.
60. Fever Dream (Distancia de Rescate) by Samanta Schweblin, 2014
A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family. Fever Dream is a nightmare come to life, a ghost story for the real world, a love story and a cautionary tale. Samanta Schweblin creates an aura of strange psychological menace and otherworldly reality in this absorbing, unsettling, taut novel.
61. Dead Girls (Chicas Muertas) by Selva Almada, 2014
Note: this is due to be published in English in September 2020.
Almada narrates the case of three small-town teenage girls murdered in the 1980’s; three unpunished deaths that occurred before the word ‘femicide’ was even coined. In this brutal but necessary novel, Almada brings to the fore these crimes committed in the interior of the country, while Argentina was celebrating the return of democracy. Selva Almada takes these tales of abused women to weave together a dry, straightforward portrait of gender violence that surpasses national borders and speaks to readers’ consciousness all over the world.
62. Driving Hungry: A Memoir by Layne Mosler, 2015
Please note: this is only partly set in Argentina.
A delicious memoir that takes us from Buenos Aires to New York to Berlin as the author, driven by wanderlust and an unrelenting appetite, finds purpose, passion, and unexpected flavor. After putting her dream of opening her own restaurant on hold, Layne Mosler moves to Buenos Aires to write about food. But she is also in search of that elusive “something” that could give shape to her life. One afternoon, fleeing a tango club following a terrible turn on the dance floor, she impulsively asks her taxista to take her to his favorite restaurant.
63. The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell, 2015
Set against Argentina’s turbulent years following the collapse of the corrupt Peronist regime, this is the story of Juan Salvador the penguin, rescued by English schoolteacher Tom Michell from an oil slick in Uruguay just days before a new term. When the bird refuses to leave Tom’s side, the young teacher has no choice but to take it with him and look after it. This is their story.
64. Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo, 2015
Note: this collection of short stories is by an Argentine author.
Silvina Ocampo is undoubtedly one of the twentieth century’s great masters of the short story. Thus Were Their Faces collects a wide range of Ocampo’s best short fiction and novella-length stories from her whole writing life. Stories about creepy doubles, a marble statue of a winged horse that speaks to a girl, a house of sugar that is the site of an eerie possession, children who lock their perverse mothers in a room and burn it, a lapdog who records the dreams of an old woman.
65. The President’s Room (La Habitación del Presidente) by Ricardo Romero, 2015
Note: this is included as a notable work by an Argentine author, however the setting is unnamed.
In a nameless, homogenised suburb, every house has a room reserved for the president. No one knows when or why this came to be. It is simply how things are, and no one appears to question or contradict this spatial disposition. The room is kept ordered and clean, and nobody is allowed to use it. It is solely for him, the president. But what if he never comes? Everything is kept vague, so vague that we begin to wonder if even the narrator can be trusted.
66. Resistance (A Resistência) by Julián Fuks, 2015
A young couple, involved in the struggle against the military dictatorship in 1970s Argentina, must flee the country. The brutality and terror of the regime is closing in around them. Friends are being ‘disappeared’. Their names are on a list. Time is running out. When they leave, they take with them their infant son, adopted after years of trying for a child without success. They build a new life in Brazil and things change radically. The family grows as the couple have two more children: a son and a daughter.
67. Things We Lost in the Fire (Las Cosas Que Perdimos en el Fuego) by Mariana Enríquez, 2016
In these wildly imaginative, devilishly daring tales of the macabre, internationally bestselling author Mariana Enriquez brings contemporary Argentina to vibrant life as a place where shocking inequality, violence, and corruption are the law of the land, while military dictatorship and legions of desaparecidos loom large in the collective memory. In these stories, three young friends distract themselves with drugs and pain in the midst a government-enforced blackout; a girl with nothing to lose steps into an abandoned house and never comes back out; to protest a viral form of domestic violence, a group of women set themselves on fire.
68. The Adventures of China Iron (Las Aventuras de la China Iron) by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, 2017
This is a riotous romp taking the reader from the turbulent frontier culture of the pampas deep into indigenous territories. It charts the adventures of Mrs China Iron, Martín Fierro’s abandoned wife, in her travels across the pampas in a covered wagon with her new-found friend, soon to become lover, a Scottish woman named Liz. While Liz provides China with a sentimental education and schools her in the nefarious ways of the British Empire, their eyes are opened to the wonders of Argentina’s richly diverse flora and fauna, cultures and languages, as well as to its national struggles.
69. The German Room (La Habitación Alemana) by Carla Maliandi, 2017
Note: this is about an Argentine woman in Germany.
A female protagonist – a young woman – travels from Argentina to Germany trapped by emotional conflicts. When she arrives, she is constantly exposed to all kinds of adventures and incidents, some funny, others tragic. She never fully understands her situation. Instead of learning from her circumstances and moving on, she gropes around, perplexed by the reality around her, hesitating as to what to do next. It is this hesitation that turns into thrilling suspense, a book that we can’t put down. We want to know what happens next, and after that.
70. Little Eyes (Kentukis) by Samanta Schweblin, 2018
Note: this is included as a notable work by an Argentine author, however the novel itself is set around the world.
In Samanta Schweblin’s wildly imaginative new novel, Little Eyes, “kentukis” have gone viral across the globe. They’re little mechanical stuffed animals that have cameras for eyes, wheels for feet, and are connected to an anonymous global server. Owners of kentukis have the eyes of a stranger in their home and a cute squeaking pet following them; or you can be the kentuki and voyeuristically spend time in someone else’s life, controlling the creature with a few keystrokes.
71. Fate (Tres Monedas) by Jorge Consiglio, 2020
Karl and Marina have been together for ten years and have a young son, Simón. Karl is a German-born oboist at Argentina’s national orchestra, and Marina is a meteorologist. On a field trip, she meets fellow researcher Zárate, and what might have been just a fling starts to erode the foundations of her marriage. Then there is Amer, a dynamic and successful taxidermist. At a group therapy session for smokers, Amer falls for the younger Clara. While the relationship between Karl and Marina disintegrates, the love story between Amer and Clara is just beginning – or is it already at an end?
What do you think of these books set in Argentina?
Have you read any of these books set in Argentina? Know some great titles that should be added? Or some classics that haven’t yet been translated? Have you visited Argentina before? Let me know your thoughts and tips on books set in Argentina in the comments below!
Looking for more reading ideas?
If you’re looking for more books you might like our list of Books Set In South America.
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I just read and enjoyed Ciudad Santa by Guillermo Orsi a detective novel set in Buenos Aires which is more about the corruption and violence in a city that beguiles natives and foreigners alike, than about who killed whom.
Hi Anna, thanks for the tip! For those interested in reading this one, I haven’t found it translated in English as yet. Please let us know in the comments if you come across it.
Great list, thank you. I also read “The Gods of Tango” by Carolina de Robertis recently. The story does take place in Buenos Aires and Naples, Italy. Great book for your list. Thanks so much!
Hi Katherine, thanks so much for your kind words. Thanks also for the wonderful recommendation, I’ll be adding this one to my reading list for sure!