Traveling from one end of the continent to the other, this list of books set in South America aims to capture the incredible diversity of the region. Immersing myself in these titles has expanded my reading horizons (in an area I’d read too little about) and made me determined to return to this amazing part of the world.
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Books Set In South America: Introduction
This list of books set in South America includes one title from each country – along with alternative titles in case you’ve read some of these books before. The selections aim to capture a diverse range of viewpoints and are related to each of the countries in a number of ways. They can be set there, have characters from there, reflect the culture or be penned by local authors.
Literature from South America is most famously associated with magical realism. This style of literature is linked with notable authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and Isabelle Allende and their infamous books set in South America, such as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Eva Luna.
I hope you’ll find a title here to inspire your next read, or perhaps even your future travels! 🤞
Books Set In South America
1. Argentina: Heartbreak Tango 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. See reviews
Read it already? How I Became A Nun by César Aira
2. Bolivia: Marching Powder by Rusty Young, 2003
Rusty Young was backpacking in South America when he heard about Thomas McFadden, a convicted English drug trafficker who ran tours inside Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro prison. Intrigued, the young Australian journalist went to La Paz and joined one of Thomas’s illegal tours. They formed an instant friendship and then became partners in an attempt to record Thomas’s experiences in the jail. See reviews
Read it already? The Fat Man from La Paz by Rosario Santos
3. Brazil: Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado, 1958
One bright spring day in 1925, Gabriela arrives from the poverty-stricken backwoods of Brazil to the lively seaside port of Ilhéus amid a flock of filthy migrant workers. Though wearing rags and covered in dirt, she attracts the attention of Nacib, a cafe owner, who is in desperate need of a new cook. So dire is his situation that he hires the disheveled girl. The savvy young woman quickly proves to be an excellent chef and – once well-scrubbed and decently dressed – an eye-catching beauty. See reviews
Read it already? The Lost City of Z by David Grann
4. Chile: Eva Luna by Isabel Allende, 1987
Eva Luna is the daughter of a professor’s assistant and a snake-bitten gardener- born poor, orphaned at an early age, and working as a servant. Eva is a naturally gifted and imaginative storyteller who meets people from all stations and walks of life. Though she has no wealth, she trades her stories like currency with people who are kind to her. In this novel, she shares the story of her own life and introduces readers to a diverse and eccentric cast of characters. See reviews
Read it already? Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende
5. Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, 1967
A widely beloved and acclaimed novel, known throughout the world. The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendi a family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the Buendi a family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America. See reviews
Read it already? The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Colombia by Michael Jacobs
6. Ecuador: The Queen of Water by Laura Resau, 2011
In this poignant novel based on a true story, Virginia’s story will speak to anyone who has ever struggled to find his or her place in the world. Born in an Andean village in Ecuador, Virginia lives with her large family in a small, earthen-walled dwelling. In her village of indígenas, it is not uncommon to work in the fields all day, even as a child, or to be called a longa tonta – stupid Indian – by members of the ruling class of mestizos, or Spanish descendants. See reviews
Read it already? The Old Man Who Read Love Stories by Luis Sepúlveda
7. Guyana: Of Marriageable Age by Sharon Maas, 2000
Three continents, three decades, three very disparate lives. Savitri, intuitive and charismatic, grows up among the servants of a pre-war English household in Madras. Nataraj, raised as the son of an idealistic doctor in rural South India, finds life in London heady, with girls and grass easily available… until he is summoned back home to face raw reality. Saroj, her fire hidden by outward reserve, comes of age in Guyana, South America. Note: this book is set between India, the United Kingdom and the authors native Guyana. See reviews
Read it already? The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya
8. Paraguay: The News From Paraguay by Lily Tuck, 2004
The year is l854. In Paris, Francisco Solano – the future dictator of Paraguay – begins his courtship of the young, beautiful Irish courtesan Ella Lynch with a poncho, a Paraguayan band, and a horse named Mathilde. Ella follows Franco to Asunción and reigns there as his mistress. Isolated and estranged in this new world, she embraces her lover’s ill-fated imperial dream – one fueled by a heedless arrogance that will devastate all of Paraguay. See reviews
Read it already? I, The Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos
9. Peru: Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa, 1993
In an isolated community in the Peruvian Andes, a series of mysterious disappearances has occurred. Army corporal Lituma and his deputy Tomás believe the Shining Path guerrillas are responsible, but the townspeople have their own ideas about the forces that claimed the bodies of the missing men. This riveting novel is filled with unforgettable characters, among them disenfranchised Indians, eccentric local folk, and a couple performing strange cannibalistic sacrifices. See reviews
Read it already? Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa
10. Suriname: The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod, 2000
Elisabeth Samson, a free black Surinamese woman who lived in 18th-century Dutch Guyana, is the central character in this compelling novel. Challenging the prevailing racial stereotypes by demonstrating her intelligence and business acumen, she is determined to marry a white man in defiance of all established norms and conventions. This biographical account depicts the complex social and racial stratifications which were features of slave colonies of the era. See reviews
Read it already? We Slaves of Suriname by Anton de Kom
11. Uruguay: The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis, 2009
On the first day of the century, a small town gathers to witness a miracle and unravel its portents: the mysterious reappearance of a lost infant, Pajarita. Later, as a young woman in the capital city – Montevideo, brimming with growth and promise – Pajarita begins a lineage of independent women. Her daughter Eva, intent on becoming a poet, overcomes an early, shattering betrayal to embark on a most unconventional path toward personal and artistic fulfillment. See reviews
Read it already? The Tree of Red Stars by Tessa Bridal
12. Venezuela: Keepers of the House by Lisa St. Aubin de Terán, 1982
Lydia, an Englishwoman, marries Diego, and they return to La Bebella, a dilapidated mansion on a neglected estate upon which years of drought and disease have taken their toll. Only Benito, her husband’s retainer, remains and when her husband becomes depressed and a virtual recluse, Lydia has to take on the management of the estate. Benito recounts to her the past history of the family and its gradual decline. See reviews
Read it already? Doña Bárbara by Rómulo Gallegos
Books Set In South America: Territories
In addition to the countries listed above; the Falkland Islands (a British overseas territory) and French Guiana (a part of France) are also part of the South American region.
Falkland Islands: Little Black Lies by Sharon J. Bolton, 2015
In such a small community as the Falkland Islands, a missing child is unheard of. In such a dangerous landscape it can only be a terrible tragedy, surely. When another child goes missing, and then a third, it’s no longer possible to believe that their deaths were accidental, and the villagers must admit that there is a murderer among them. See reviews
French Guiana: Papillon by Henri Charrière, 1969
Henri Charrière, called “Papillon,” for the butterfly tattoo on his chest, was convicted in Paris in 1931 of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal colony of French Guiana, he became obsessed with one goal: escape. After planning and executing a series of treacherous yet failed attempts over many years, he was eventually sent to the notorious prison, Devil’s Island, a place from which no one had ever escaped… until Papillon. See reviews
What do you think of these books set in South America?
Have you been to South America before? What are your favorite books set in South America? Do you know some great books set in South America that you can recommend? I’d love to hear more about your own travels and tips for books set in South America in the comments below!
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