Latinas in Translation: Let’s get spooked!

Latin-American women are becoming very popular for horror or spooky stories. Last year it was all about Mexican Gothic, and this year The Dangers of Smoking in Bed; but the truth is that they’ve been writing great scary stories for almost 100 years.

María Luisa Bombal (Chile), wrote the first story of the genre of magical realism in 1935, “House of Mist”. Trying to fit it in those genre boxes that publishers and booksellers love so much, we’d say it’s a suspense thriller, part ghost story, part romance. A story that will carry its scent into far more popular novellas, such as Aura (1962) by Carlos Fuentes, and the Invention of Morel (1964) by Adolfo Bioy Casares. But far more than that (and unlike more celebrated works by Latin American male authors of the genre) is a feminist coming-of-age story, though our protagonist is not a girl but a young woman. As a young bride, neglected by her husband, and shackled by gender roles and loneliness, she creates her identity, her definition of womanhood and chases after this handsome young man who seems more of a shadow and a sexual fantasy than a real love interest. And it is eerie, spooky and has that Hitchcock feeling that will trap you from the start.

And then there’s Silvina Ocampo (Argentina), who, though lesser known than her husband Bioy Casares and his best friend Borges, wrote spooky, imaginative, creative and fantastical short stories (154 of them spanning more than 50 years, from 1937 to 1988) who influenced contemporary Argentinian writers such as Mariana Enriquez and Samantha Schweblin. One of her most popular collections of short stories translated to English Thus Were Their Faces (2015) and La Furia y Otros Cuentos (1959) in Spanish.

Fast forward to present day, Samantha Schweblin (Argentina), Mariana Enriquez (Argentina), Agustina Bazterrica (Argentina), Silvia Moreno García (Mexico) and Fernanda Melchor (Mexico) have followed on that tradition and made headlines around the globe.

While Mariana Enriquez has written more traditional horror that has that “real” feel and relatability of ghost stories and stories of the supernatural passed on from generation to generation; Samantha Schweblin and Agustina Bazterrica have created stories that muddle the borders between dystopian and horror.

In Kentukis / Little Eyes (2018) Schweblin explores loneliness, isolation and technological voyeurism in her tale of robotic animal companions who turn out to be more threatening than our tamagotchis.

Meanwhile, Bazterrica in Tender Is the Flesh (2017) manages to push a strong argument in favor of veganism with her dystopian of cannibalism. It’s disturbing, scary and not to be read on a full stomach.

Fernanda Melchor is a journalist and that has inspired her literature. Peppered with autobiographical details and real-life events as inspiration, the stories behind Hurricane Season and This Is Not Miami are scary because they feel so close to real. In Hurricane Season, a “witch” is murdered in a small village and the culprit could have been anyone for what witch is loved? Homophobia, strong language and graphic violence make this a suspense thriller that, though hard to swallow, keeps you glued to the pages right to the end.

Finally, possibly the most read Mexican author of last year, Silvia Moreno García, a woman of all genres. Though she writes in English, she deserves a spot in this post due to the impact she has had on the genre. But Moreno-García likes to dip her toes across all genres, from her Young Adult Fantasy Gods of Jade and Shadow (2019) to Historical Fantasy & Romance with The Beautiful Ones (2017), to Mystery Thriller with Untamed Shore (2020) and Velvet is The Night (2021). Mexican Gothic was a sensation for her combination of gothic and 1950s glamour, romance and horror but overall a protagonist like we’ve never seen before in this genre. Far away from Jennifer Love Hewit in I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place (2018) or Janet Leigh in Psycho (1960), she’s a petite, brown, smart and confident Latina who doesn’t need your help. She’s here to save the day, and that she’ll do.

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