Despite my deep love of Mexico, an above average consumption of tacos and multiple visits to this incredible place, I’ve only ever scratched the surface of books set in Mexico. I’ve even worn consecutive halloween costumes as a taco, Frida Kahlo and a piñata; so I want to dive into more of these novels. 🌵
Some of the classics on this list of books set in Mexico include The Labyrinth of Solitude and Other Writings by Octavio Paz, best known for his poetry; along with the work of Carlos Fuentes such as Terra Nostra, The Death of Artemio Cruz and The Years with Laura Diaz.
As for more contemporary works, the novels The Story of My Teeth and Faces In The Crowd by Valeria Luiselli are at the top of my reading list. Many books deal with stories of immigration and identity; and I loved getting lost in Caramelo and The Book of Unknown Americans on my last trip.
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Where To Read In Mexico City
Swing by Taqueria El Greco in Condesa for an incredible taco arabes before strolling over to Parque Mexico or Parque Espana for an afternoon read. The parks are filled with lush greenery and surrounded by art deco buildings; frequented by dog walkers navigating impressive numbers of hounds. Nearby, you can also find Cafebrería El Péndulo, one of the cities first book cafes. For a day trip head to Coyoacán, on a quiet day the small garden of Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul is also a peaceful sanctuary.
Books Set In Mexico
by Sandra Cisneros, 2002
Every year, Ceyala “Lala” Reyes’ family–aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, and Lala’s six older brothers–packs up three cars and, in a wild ride, drive from Chicago to the Little Grandfather and Awful Grandmother’s house in Mexico City for the summer. Struggling to find a voice above the boom of her brothers and to understand her place on this side of the border and that, Lala is a shrewd observer of family life.
Like Water for Chocolate
by Laura Esquivel, 1989
A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her, so that Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds.
All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy 1/3)
by Cormac McCarthy, 1992
All the Pretty Horses tells of young John Grady Cole, the last of a long line of Texas ranchers. Across the border Mexico beckons—beautiful and desolate, rugged and cruelly civilized. With two companions, he sets off on an idyllic, sometimes comic adventure, to a place where dreams are paid for in blood.
Down the Rabbit Hole
by Juan Pablo Villalobos, 2010
Tochtli lives in a palace. He loves hats, samurai, guillotines and dictionaries, and what he wants more than anything right now is a new pet for his private zoo: a pygmy hippopotamus from Liberia. But Tochtli is a child whose father is a drug baron on the verge of taking over a powerful cartel, and Tochtli is growing up in a luxury hideout that he shares with hit men, prostitutes, dealers, servants and the odd corrupt politician or two.
by Juan Pablo Villalobos, 2012
While his father preaches Hellenic virtues and practises the art of the insult, Orestes’ mother prepares hundreds of quesadillas for Orestes and the rest of their brood: Aristotle, Archilocus, Callimachus, Electra, Castor and Pollux. She insists they are middle class, but Orestes is not convinced. And after another fraudulent election and the disappearance of his younger brothers Castor and Pollux, he heads off on an adventure.
The Story of My Teeth
by Valeria Luiselli, 2013
Highway is a late-in-life world traveler, yarn spinner, collector, and legendary auctioneer. His most precious possessions are the teeth of the “notorious infamous” like Plato, Petrarch, and Virginia Woolf. Written in collaboration with the workers at a Jumex juice factory, The Story of My Teeth is an elegant, witty, exhilarating romp through the industrial suburbs of Mexico City and Luiselli’s own literary influences.
by Carlos Fuentes, 1975
One of the great masterpieces of modern Latin American fiction, Terra Nostra is concerned with nothing less than the history of Spain and of South America, with the Indian Gods and with Christianity, with the birth, the passion, and the death of civilizations. Fuentes skillfully blends a wide range of literary forms, stories within stories, Mexican and Spanish myth, and famous literary characters in this novel that is both a historical epic and an apocalyptic vision of modern times.
The Death of Artemio Cruz
by Carlos Fuentes, 1962
Hailed as a masterpiece since its publication in 1962, The Death of Artemio Cruz is Carlos Fuentes’s haunting voyage into the soul of modern Mexico.
As in all his fiction, but perhaps most powerfully in this book, Fuentes is a passionate guide to the ironies of Mexican history, the burden of its past, and the anguish of its present
The Years with Laura Diaz
by Carlos Fuentes, 1999
A radiant family saga set in a century of Mexican history, by one of the world’s greatest writers.
Carlos Fuentes’s hope-filled new novel sees the twentieth century through the eyes of Laura D’az, a woman who becomes as much a part of our history as of the Mexican history she observes and helps to create. Born in 1898, this extraordinary woman grows into a wife and mother, becomes the lover of great men, and, before her death in 1972, is celebrated as a politically committed artist.
by Scott B. Smith, 2006
Trapped in the Mexican jungle, a group of friends stumble upon a creeping horror unlike anything they could ever imagine. Two young couples are on a lazy Mexican vacation–sun-drenched days, drunken nights, making friends with fellow tourists. When the brother of one of those friends disappears, they decide to venture into the jungle to look for him. What started out as a fun day-trip slowly spirals into a nightmare when they find an ancient ruins site… and the terrifying presence that lurks there.
by James A. Michener, 1992
Here is the story of an American journalist who travels to Mexico to report on the upcoming duel between two great matadors, but who is ultimately swept up in the dramatic story of his Mexican ancestors. From the brutality and brilliance of the ancients, to the iron fist of the invading Spaniards, to the modern-day Mexicans battling through dust and bloodshed to build a nation upon the ashes of revolution, James Michener weaves it all into an epic human story that ranks with the best of his beloved, bestselling novels.
Faces In The Crowd
by Valeria Luiselli, 2011
In Mexico City, a young mother is writing a novel of her days as a translator living in New York. In Harlem, a translator is desperate to publish the works of Gilberto Owen, an obscure Mexican poet. And in Philadelphia, Gilberto Owen recalls his friendship with Lorca, and the young woman he saw in the windows of passing trains. Valeria Luiselli’s debut signals the arrival of a major international writer and an unexpected and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.
What the Moon Saw
by Laura Resau, 2006
Clara Luna’s name means “clear moon” in Spanish. But lately, her head has felt anything but clear. One day a letter comes from Mexico, written in Spanish: Dear Clara, We invite you to our house for the summer. We will wait for you on the day of the full moon, in June, at the Oaxaca airport. Love, your grandparents.
Fourteen-year-old Clara has never met her father’s parents. She knows he snuck over the border from Mexico as a teenager, but beyond that, she knows almost nothing about his childhood. When she agrees to go, she’s stunned by her grandparents’ life: they live in simple shacks in the mountains of southern Mexico, where most people speak not only Spanish, but an indigenous language, Mixteco.
Mornings in Mexico
by D.H. Lawrence, 1927
Much of D.H. Lawrence’s life was defined by his passion for travel and it was those wanderings that gave life to some of his greatest novels. In the 1920s Lawrence travelled several times to Mexico, where he was fascinated by the clash of beauty and brutality, purity and darkness that he observed. The diverse and evocative essays that make up Mornings in Mexico wander from an admiring portrayal of the Indian way of life to a visit to the studio of Diego Rivera and are brightly adorned with simple and evocative details: piles of fruit in a village market, strolls in a courtyard filled with hibiscus and roses, the play of light on an adobe wall.
by Shanthi Sekara, 2017
Lucky Boy is an emotional journey that will leave you certain of the redemptive beauty of this world. There are no bad guys in this story, no obvious hero. From rural Oaxaca to Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto to the dreamscapes of Silicon valley, author Shanthi Sekaran has taken real life and applied it to fiction; the results are moving and revelatory.
Into the Beautiful North
by Luis Alberto Urrea, 2009
Nineteen-year-old Nayeli works at a taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who journeyed to the United States to find work. Recently, it has dawned on her that he isn’t the only man who has left town. In fact, there are almost no men in the village–they’ve all gone north. While watching The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli decides to go north herself and recruit seven men – her own “Siete Magníficos” – to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the bandidos who plan on taking it over.
by John Steinbeck, 1947
Like his father and grandfather before him, Kino is a poor diver, gathering pearls from the gulf beds that once brought great wealth to the kings of Spain and now provide Kino, Juana, and their infant son with meager subsistence. Then, on a day like any other, Kino emerges from the sea with a pearl as large as a sea gull’s egg, as “perfect as the moon.” With the pearl comes hope, the promise of comfort and of security…
A story of classic simplicity, based on a Mexican folk tale, The Pearl explores the secrets of man’s nature, greed, the darkest depths of evil, and the luminous possibilities of love.
The Book of Unknown Americans
by Cristina Henriquez, 2014
A dazzling, heartbreaking page-turner destined for breakout status: a novel that gives voice to millions of Americans as it tells the story of the love between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl: teenagers living in an apartment block of immigrant families like their own.
After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave México and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinderblock complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel’s recovery–the piece of the American Dream on which they’ve pinned all their hopes–will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles.
The Savage Detectives
by Roberto Bolaño, 1998
New Year’s Eve, 1975: Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, founders of the visceral realist movement in poetry, leave Mexico City in a borrowed white Impala. Their quest: to track down the obscure, vanished poet Cesárea Tinajero. A violent showdown in the Sonora desert turns search to flight; twenty years later Belano and Lima are still on the run.
No Country for Old Men
by Cormac McCarthy, 2005
In his blistering new novel, Cormac McCarthy returns to the Texas-Mexico border, setting of his famed Border Trilogy. The time is our own, when rustlers have given way to drug-runners and small towns have become free-fire zones.
One day, Llewellyn Moss finds a pickup truck surrounded by a bodyguard of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law–in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell–can contain.
by William S. Burroughs, 1953
Burroughs’ first novel, a largely autobiographical account of the constant cycle of drug dependency, cures and relapses, remains the most unflinching, unsentimental account of addiction ever written. Through junk neighbourhoods in New York, New Orleans and Mexico City, through time spent kicking, time spent dealing and time rolling drunks for money, through junk sickness and a sanatorium, Junky is a field report (by a writer trained in anthropology at Harvard) from the American post-war drug underground. A cult classic, it has influenced generations of writers with its raw, sparse and unapologetic tone.
The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo
by F.G. Haghenbeck, 2009
When several notebooks were recently discovered among Frida Kahlo’s belongings at her home in Coyoacán, Mexico City, acclaimed Mexican novelist F. G. Haghenbeck was inspired to write this beautifully wrought fictional account of her life. Haghenbeck imagines that, after Frida nearly died when a streetcar’s iron handrail pierced her abdomen during a traffic accident, she received one of the notebooks as a gift from her lover Tina Modotti.
The Power and the Glory
by Graham Greene, 1940
In a poor, remote section of Southern Mexico, the paramilitary group, the Red Shirts have taken control. God has been outlawed, and the priests have been systematically hunted down and killed. Now, the last priest is on the run. Too human for heroism, too humble for martyrdom, the nameless little worldly “whiskey priest” is nevertheless impelled toward his squalid Calvary as much by his own compassion for humanity as by the efforts of his pursuers.
The Hummingbird’s Daughter
by Luis Alberto Urrea, 2005
It is 1889, and civil war is brewing in Mexico. A 16-year-old girl, Teresita, illegitimate but beloved daughter of the wealthy and powerful rancher Don Tomas Urrea, wakes from the strangest dream – a dream that she has died. Only it was not a dream. This passionate and rebellious young woman has arisen from death with a power to heal–but it will take all her faith to endure the trials that await her and her family now that she has become the Saint of Cabora.
by Barbara Kingsolver, 2009
In her most accomplished novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities.
Under the Volcano
by Malcolm Lowry, 1947
Geoffrey Firmin, a former British consul, has come to Quauhnahuac, Mexico. Here the consul’s debilitating malaise is drinking, and activity that has overshadowed his life. Under the Volcano is set during the most fateful day of the consul’s life – the Day of the Dead, 1938. His wife, Yvonne, arrives in Quauhnahuac to rescue him and their failing marriage, inspired by a vision of life together away from Mexico and the circumstances that have driven their relationship to the brink of collapse.
The Labyrinth of Solitude and Other Writings
by Octavio Paz, 1950
Octavio Paz has long been acknowledged as Mexico’s foremost writer and critic. In this international classic, Paz has written one of the most enduring and powerful works ever created on Mexico and its people, character, and culture. Compared to Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses for its trenchant analysis, this collection contains his most famous work, The Labyrinth of Solitude, a beautifully written and deeply felt discourse on Mexico’s quest for identity that gives us an unequalled look at the country hidden behind “the mask.”
by Jack Kerouac, 1960
Tristessa is the name with which Kerouac baptized Esperanza Villanueva, a Catholic Mexican young woman, a prostitute and addict to certain drugs, whom he fell in love with during one of his stays in Mexico – a country that he frequently visited – by the middle of the fifties. Wrapped in a spiritual atmosphere that expresses the yearnings of Kerouac to find himself, Tristessa is the story of the strange loving relationship that the author had with Esperanza, as well as the significant description of the atmosphere that surrounded it, which depicts some key places of Mexico City back then.
The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros, 1984
Acclaimed by critics and translated all over the world, The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero.
Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous–it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.
by Mario Alberto Zambrano, 2013
A young girl tells the story of her family’s tragic demise using a deck of cards of the eponymous Mexican game in this spellbinding debut novel that marks the arrival of a powerhouse new talent.
With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, the young girl retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of Lotería cards – a Mexican version of bingo featuring bright, colorful images.
What do you think of these books set in Mexico?
Have a great book recommendation I’ve missed? I’d love to hear about more books set in Mexico in the comments below!