The best books about Chile

7 authors have picked their favorite books about Chile and why they recommend each book.

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Madwomen

By Gabriela Mistral, Randall Couch (translator),

Book cover of Madwomen: The Locas Mujeres Poems of Gabriela Mistral

Gabriela was a Chilean poet-diplomat, educator, and humanist, who became the first Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature. Her poetry often focuses on dark, humane themes that undoubtedly reflect on traumatic episodes that she had personally endured. 

Gabriela has the knack of scratching the surface, which is potent enough to get all your senses actively experiencing the emotions and character she puts forth. The poems resonate on a deep level, offering a compelling clarity of life with its tragedy and complications. The women depicted here are anything but mad; some would say entirely strong-willed and intense, with a collected control and a modernistic sense of independence.


Who am I?

Chriselda is a multi-genre, prolific author, and speaker, with a background in Business Administration and Chemistry/Microbiology. She speaks 5 languages & has published over 50 books. Her expansive writing covers poetry, horror, thriller, romance, children’s illustration, educational... but she enjoys telling a story in narrative poetry the most. Currently, she is working on her next dark poetry book Me and Him, where she will invoke one of the greatest poets – EA Poe. In her effort to promote more learning, she is also wrapping up the fourth book in her - Sigils, Symbols and Alchemy Series. Her passion for writing, lifelong learning, creativity, and her curiosity all help spark her innovative mindset.


I wrote...

The Creep: A First of Its Kind Narrative Poetry in a Thriller Genre!

By Chriselda Barretto,

Book cover of The Creep: A First of Its Kind Narrative Poetry in a Thriller Genre!

What is my book about?

“A collection of poems that highlight the most evil things and happenings, the author writes in an almost wistful way, capturing some of Edgar Allan Poe’s essence, in that the poems are grisly while getting under your skin in a subtle way. There seems to be a running theme of horrible things happening to ordinary people, from The Secret Amulet to Deepak, the Full Moon, and more. The Creep is a presence that pervades people’s lives, takes over and exerts an extreme evil influence. This is an interesting take on putting together a collection of poetry, highly unique and innovative.” - Valery

Buying Into the Regime

By Heidi Tinsman,

Book cover of Buying Into the Regime: Grapes and Consumption in Cold War Chile and the United States

You’ll never look at table grapes the same after reading Tinsman’s excellent Buying into the Regime. Her book takes a different approach from the texts above – instead of looking at a single movement, she focuses on a single industry (Chilean grapes) in multiple contexts: cultivation in Chile, Cold War consumption in the United States, and consumer activism and grape boycotts in both nations. The result is a remarkable transnational history that underscores how consumption itself is a “terrain of political struggle.” Tinsman’s expansive perspective, which engages a number of different fields, also offers lessons for activists in the age of globalization, notably that building transnational alliances is incredibly difficult work.

Who am I?

I’m a Colorado-raised and California-based historian, professor, and writer. I recently published my first book, Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism, which explores the history of one of the longest-running consumer boycotts in American history – the boycott of Coors beer. In telling this particular history, I became fascinated with the boycott as a tool of protest and activism. The boycott is an iconic and regular feature of American politics and history, but it is often dismissed as ineffective or passive. The books on this list (as well as many others) have helped to convince me that the boycott and consumer activism can be powerful forms of solidarity-building and protest.


I wrote...

Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism

By Allyson Brantley,

Book cover of Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism

What is my book about?

In the late twentieth century, nothing united union members, progressive students, Black and Chicano activists, Native Americans, feminists, and members of the LGBTQ+ community quite as well as Coors beer. They came together not in praise of the ice-cold beverage but rather to fight a common enemy: the Colorado-based Coors Brewing Company. Wielding the boycott as their weapon of choice, activists targeted Coors for allegations of anti-unionism, discrimination, and conservative political ties. Over decades of organizing and coalition-building from the 1950s to the 1990s, anti-Coors activists molded the boycott into a powerful means of political protest.

I draw from a broad archive as well as oral history interviews with long-time boycotters to offer a compelling, grassroots view of anti-corporate organizing and the unlikely coalitions that formed in opposition to Coors. The story highlights the vibrancy of activism in the final decades of the twentieth century and the enduring legacy of that organizing for communities, consumer activists, and corporations today.

My Tender Matador

By Pedro Lemebel, Katherine Silver (translator),

Book cover of My Tender Matador

Set in Santiago, Chile, in 1986, Lemebel weaves an unconventional love story between an aging cross-dresser and a young revolutionary. Queerness suffuses the luscious, camp, and irreverent sentences of the novel, and does not shy away from challenging all forms of convention. By splicing the narrative between the different voices and perspectives of the ‘Queen of the Corner’ and Chile’s dictator Pinochet, queerness brushes up, mingles, and challenges the rigid perspectives of military dictatorship, reminding us of the revolutionary potential of queerness.


Who am I?

Saleem Haddad was born in Kuwait City to an Iraqi-German mother and a Palestinian-Lebanese father. He has worked with Médecins Sans Frontières and other international organisations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, and Egypt. His first novel, Guapa, is a political and personal coming-of-age story of a young gay man living through the 2011 Arab revolutions. The novel received critical acclaim from the New Yorker, The Guardian, and others. It was awarded a Stonewall Honour and won the 2017 Polari First Book Prize. His directorial debut, Marco, premiered in March 2019 and was nominated for the 2019 Iris Prize for ‘Best British Short Film’.


I wrote...

Guapa

By Saleem Haddad,

Book cover of Guapa

What is my book about?

Set over the course of twenty-four hours, Guapa follows Rasa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arab country, as he tries to carve out a life for himself in the midst of political and social upheaval. 

Rasa roams the city’s slums and prisons, the lavish weddings of the country’s elite, and the bars where outcasts and intellectuals drink to a long-lost revolution. Each new encounter leads him closer to confronting his own identity, as he revisits his childhood and probes the secrets that haunt his family. As Rasa confronts the simultaneous collapse of political hope and his closest personal relationships, he is forced to discover the roots of his alienation and try to re-emerge into a society that may never accept him.

By Night in Chile

By Roberto Bolaño, Chris Andrews (translator),

Book cover of By Night in Chile

Im also a playwright, so I really admire a full story told in propulsive first-person monologue. This novella is a confession of Father Urrutia from his deathbed, beginning with the line I am dying now, but I still have many things to say.As he speaks, the priest untangles the twisted, uncomfortable agreements between artists and institutions in Chile under Pinochet. I often recommend this book for people who have not yet read Bolaño and might feel intimated by the length of his major works. 


Who am I?

Writer and essayist Agnes Borinsky called my debut novel The Seep, A swift shock of a novel that has shifted how I see our world.Here are five short, urgent novels that continue to live with me in the months and years after reading them. These are some of my most beloved books, all of which happen to be under 200 pages, which ache with the inner mystery of what is hidden, and what is revealed. These books are my teachers, each a precise masterclass in world building, suspense, and purposeful storytelling. Enjoy these ‘swift shocks!’


I wrote...

The Seep

By Chana Porter,

Book cover of The Seep

What is my book about?

A blend of searing social commentary and speculative fiction, Chana Porters fresh, pointed debut explores a strange new world in the wake of a benign alien invasion. A strange new elegy of love and loss, The Seep explores grief, alienation, and the ache of moving on. A 2021 Lambda Literary Award Finalist, Finalist for the Otherwise Award, Times of London Best Sci-Fi of 2021.

A unique alien invasion story that focuses on the human and the myriad ways we see and dont see our own world. Mesmerizing.” —Jeff VanderMeer

The Pinochet File

By Peter Kornbluh,

Book cover of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability

The 1973 coup in Chile violently destroyed the freely elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende and installed the brutal 17-year dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. For years afterward suspicions swirled that the U.S. was behind the event. But evidence was largely anecdotal. What is so impressive about this book is Kornbluh’s persistence deploying the Freedom of Information Act to obtain thousands of classified documents related to the coup. Kornbluh connects the dots and reveals the smoking guns. Through facsimiles of actual cables, telexes, and phone memos (many still highly redacted) this dossier allows you to draw your own conclusions about what really happened in Chile.


Who am I?

I’m always delighted when a reader asks, “Did you work for the CIA?” It tells me I achieved the verisimilitude I was striving for in Under a False Flag. I’m also proud that my novel has been included in a university-level Latin American history curriculum. That tells me I got the history right. No aspect of modern history is more intriguing or controversial than the role covert action played, for better or worse, in the Cold War. With the exception of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which took us to the brink of nuclear disaster, the Cold War in Latin America was mostly fought in the shadows with markedly ambivalent achievements.


I wrote...

Under a False Flag

By Tom Gething,

Book cover of Under a False Flag

What is my book about?

October 1972. Will Porter joins the CIA’s secret war against Chile’s Marxist president, Salvador Allende. Working undercover, Will’s job is to manage the dirty money being used to disrupt the Chilean economy and to fund the growing opposition. A budding friendship with university student Ernesto Manning and his freethinking sister Gabriela complicates Will’s job and threatens to blow his cover. In a turbulent world of deceivers and deceived, Will must choose between friendship and betrayal, truth and lies, love and duty. Based on historical events, this compelling novel brings to life a tragic moment that changed the course of a nation.

Space Invaders

By Nona Fernández, Natasha Wimmer (translator),

Book cover of Space Invaders

Translated from Spanish and a mere 70 pages in length, you may be hungry for more (as I was) when you've finished this bracingly brief story. Fortunately, you can pick up this author's The Twilight Zone (as I did) to read a longer exploration by this author of the events and themes introduced here. Fernández writes from the perspective of a young person living during the Pinochet regime in Chile, evoking the time with an extended metaphor about the ‘80s video game Space Invaders. The concerns of the young are strangely pushed and pulled by the terrible realities of that regime, which, like an invader from another world, descends upon their lives.


Who am I?

My writing career has been in middle grade and YA, but as a reader I’m always trying to branch out. When I was a kid, literature opened the door to the whole world, and as an adult, I’m still exploring. When I read work in translation I can feel the literary connection to other writers and thinkers and simultaneously appreciate the differences that arise through geographic and cultural heritage. I hope my selections here might help readers like myself who enjoy reaching out to new voices and places.


I wrote...

The Wikkeling

By Steven Arntson,

Book cover of The Wikkeling

What is my book about?

In the futuristic city of The Addition, children are raised safely and efficiently. Their diets are standardized. Their schoolwork is synchronized. Even their sleep is quantized and analyzed. Yes, it’s all figured out . . . but the results aren’t quite as advertised. At least, not for Henrietta Gad-Fly, who lives in a rundown old house, gets bad headaches, and is on the verge of being expelled from school for poor grades. Henrietta is fortunate in one regard, though—she’s got really great friends in her schoolmates Gary and Rose. Friendship can help a person even in the weirdest situations. For instance, let’s say you find a hidden attic above your bedroom in which a mortally wounded magical cat has taken refuge . . .

The Falling Sky

By Pippa Goldschmidt,

Book cover of The Falling Sky

Scottish astronomer and novelist Pippa Goldschmidt mixes astronomy and fiction in her novel. The book provides insight into the way that astronomy is carried out now in modern, remote, mountain-top observatories and in space (I can vouch for its verisimilitude). Jeanette is a young, lonely, junior researcher working in a university department dominated by male egos and incompetents. She puts academic politics and unsatisfactory affairs aside and travels to a mountain-top observatory in Chile for her research, making an unexpected discovery that throws her into conflict with her colleagues. Like her love life, her scientific life spirals out of her control: the Universe is ordered by science but her life and the lives of scientists are not.


Who am I?

Astronomy teaches us that our bodies are quite literally star stuff, chemical elements made inside exploding stars. For much of my life, I studied and researched astronomy in universities, and in observatories on remote and beautiful mountain tops and in space.  I explored the cosmos for its own sake, but I came to realise also that we are literally and metaphorically a part of the Universe, not apart from it. Just as the science of astronomy has done for me, these novels put humanity against the same backdrop: cosmic lives seen through women’s eyes. 


I wrote...

The Secret Lives of Planets: Order, Chaos, and Uniqueness in the Solar System

By Paul Murdin,

Book cover of The Secret Lives of Planets: Order, Chaos, and Uniqueness in the Solar System

What is my book about?

The subtitle of my book is Order, Chaos and Uniqueness in the Solar System.  It contrasts the conventional idea that the planets are locked into a perfect, repetitive, interlocking mechanical machine like a watch with the increasing realisation by astronomers of the strong role that chance and chaos have played in the way planets develop.  

I wrote the book with the thought in mind that the evolution of a planet was akin to someone’s life – a sequence of chance events linked by the progression that, in retrospect, makes the arc of an individual’s biography.  In the solar system, the major chance event was an orbital interference of Jupiter and Saturn.  It threw asteroids all around the solar system, smashing into the Earth and creating our satellite, scarring rocky worlds like Mercury and the Moon with craters, and ejecting countless asteroids, even planets, into the cold, dark depths of interstellar space.  That was a fate that our Earth evidently avoided, but only by chance.     

Desired States

By Lessie Jo Frazier,

Book cover of Desired States: Sex, Gender, and Political Culture in Chile

Using a truly interdisciplinary approach anchored in queer studies and affect theory, Frazier subverts the common approach to sex as privatized and located in individual subjectivity by looking at desire as a central component of political culture and power. The book explores a variety of Chilean political projects and actors throughout the twentieth century including feminists, the revolutionary left, and the military dictatorship to understand the ways in which both sexual and non-sexual practices and ideologies were intrinsically connected to emotions and ideas of pleasure and to sexualized and gendered discourses and experiences.


Who am I?

I am a historian of twentieth-century Argentina and a professor of modern Latin American history currently teaching at the University of Houston. Born and raised in Argentina, I completed my undergraduate studies at the National University of Rosario and moved to the United States in 2000 to continue my education. I received my M.A. in history from New York University and my Ph.D. in history from Indiana University, Bloomington. I have written extensively about gender, working-class history, consumer culture, and sexuality in Argentina. I am the author of Workers Go Shopping in Argentina: The Rise of Popular Consumer Culture and Destape! Sex, Democracy, and Freedom in Postdictatorial Argentina.


I wrote...

Destape: Sex, Democracy, and Freedom in Postdictatorial Argentina

By Natalia Milanesio,

Book cover of Destape: Sex, Democracy, and Freedom in Postdictatorial Argentina

What is my book about?

Under dictatorship in Argentina, sex and sexuality were regulated to the point where sex education, explicit images, and even suggestive material were prohibited. With the return to democracy in 1983, Argentines experienced new freedoms, including sexual freedoms. The new availability and ubiquity of sexual material became known as the destape, and it uncovered sexuality in provocative ways. This was a mass-media phenomenon, but it went beyond this. It was, in effect, a deeper process of change in sexual ideologies and practices.

By exploring the boom of sex therapy and sexology; the fight for the implementation of sex education in schools; the expansion of family planning services and of organizations dedicated to sexual health care; and the centrality of discussions on sexuality in feminist and gay organizations, my book shows that the destape was a profound transformation of the way Argentines talked, understood, and experienced sexuality, a change in manners, morals, and personal freedoms.

Arauco

By John Caviglia,

Book cover of Arauco

Another big, ambitious book that tells a war from both sides: here the 16th-century Spanish invasion of Chile. Equal time is given to the cast of Spaniards and the cast of Mapuche – large casts in each case. You’ll learn a battery of Mapuche words, for epics were always educative. What I love most, perhaps, about this book – after the shaman Ñamku, whom you see on the wonderful cover – is its witty style, its wordplay, gambolling in its sentences like a porpoise in the ocean, for sheer exuberance’s sake. Exuberance is a quality of epic. Along with expansiveness, and arguably, the upturn at the end, the grace note in spite of atrocities.


Who am I?

My Amgalant series follows the Secret History of the Mongols, which, though a history of the rise of Chinggis Khan, draws on an oral epic tradition. I always liked epics. Gilgamesh and the Saga of Grettir the Strong are among the fiction that most moves me. I look for historical fiction that owes to epic not only its story but its storytelling. The epic makers, ancient and medieval, knew craft we still can learn from. Quote epic at me, or misquote – homage, but own it. I like epic size and scope, but also intimate epic, with a close-up on the people that is post-19th-century novel. Epic has room for everything.


I wrote...

Against Walls

By Bryn Hammond,

Book cover of Against Walls

What is my book about?

Against Walls, the first in my Amgalant series, covers the Secret History of the Mongols sections 1-123. I let my 13th-century Mongol original guide me from event to event, with its gloriously—but concisely—told stories for bones, fleshing out into a novel. I like to say that every word in the original is found somewhere in mine.

People who know the Mongols for their conquests might find the content extraordinary. The Secret History is an intimate portrait of Chinggis Khan, with a human focus, with notes of tragedy, and whoever conflated these firsthand accounts into a written document had an eye for ethical conundrum and a flair for ambiguous character. As a novelist, I find it dream material. 

Reagan and Pinochet

By Morris Morley, Chris McGillion,

Book cover of Reagan and Pinochet: The Struggle Over U.S. Policy Toward Chile

So much ink has been spent on the Nixon administration’s early 1970s plotting and policies during the regime of democratic socialist president Salvador Allende. This exquisite book is a sharp reminder that, while far less studied, the Reagan administration was deeply involved in a Chile run by the very political actor who ousted Allende: General Augusto Pinochet. Yet, contrary to what we often assumed, the Reagan team eventually embraced a policy aimed to get Washington’s erstwhile ally out of power. 


Who am I?

I've been interested in U.S.-Latin American relations ever since my junior year in college when I studied abroad in Chile, a country that had only two years prior been run by dictator Augusto Pinochet. Often referred to as America’s “backyard,” Latin America has often been on the receiving end of U.S. machinations and expansions. In terms of the history of American foreign policy, it's never a dull moment in U.S. involvement in its own hemisphere. I have now had the privilege to work inside the executive branch of the U.S. government on Latin America policy, stints which have forced me to reconsider some of what I had assumed about U.S. abilities and outcomes. 


I wrote...

"Our Hemisphere"? The United States in Latin America, from 1776 to the Twenty-First Century

By Russell C. Crandall, Britta H. Crandall,

Book cover of "Our Hemisphere"? The United States in Latin America, from 1776 to the Twenty-First Century

What is my book about?

“Our Hemisphere”? uncovers the range, depth, and veracity of the United States’ relationship with the Americas. Using short historical vignettes, Britta and Russell Crandall chart the course of inter-American relations from 1776 to the present, highlighting the roles that individuals and groups of soldiers, intellectuals, private citizens, and politicians have had in shaping U.S. policy toward Latin America in the postcolonial, Cold War, and post–Cold War eras. The United States is usually and correctly seen as pursuing a monolithic, hegemonic agenda in Latin America, wielding political, economic, and military muscle to force Latin American countries to do its bidding, but the Crandalls reveal unexpected yet salient regional interactions where Latin Americans have exercised their own power with their northern and very powerful neighbor.

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