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Latin American horror is having a (woman-led) moment. Witches, vampires, and boogeymen stalk the pages of these Latin American novels and short story collections, serving up a healthy dose of seasonal spookiness. Some are just plain psychologically unsettling, made all the creepier for their lack of a tangible terror, while others indulge in otherworldly fantasy or dystopic “delights”.
From the bewitching and beguiling to tales of straight up horror and unease, these are 16 of the top Latin American books to read this Halloween, comprised of both my personal favourites and TBRs.
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (trans. Megan McDowell)
Genre: psychological horror
A woman wakes in a hospital, accompanied by a small boy, but they’re not mother and son—he’s the child of her friend. What follows is a disorienting tale of psychological eco-horror, including a back and forth between the boy, David, and the woman, Amanda, as the former tries to prompt the latter to remember what led her to the hospital in the first place. [Basically all of Samanta Schweblin’s books are Halloween-friendly.]
Read my review of Fever Dream here.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Genre: witchy fantasy
The first in a trilogy of YA fantasy, Labyrinth Lost catapults us into the witchy world of the Mórtiz sisters—Alex, Lula, and Rose. The protagonist of Labyrinth Lost is Alex, a teenager on the cusp of her Death Day celebrations (think: a quinceañera for brujas) who continues to resolutely repress her powers…until her family goes missing and she’s cast into the realm of Los Lagos on a quest to save them.
Read my review of the ‘Brooklyn Brujas’ series here.
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez (trans. Megan McDowell)
Genre: psychological horror
The undisputed queen of Argentine horror, Mariana Enríquez’s latest short story collection in English translation is populated by a cast of vengeful teenagers, ghostly children, and uncanny valley doppelgangers. Each story in this genuinely creepy collection is as captivating as the last, from the stinky streets of Barcelona to the abandoned quarries of Argentina. And of course, Megan McDowell’s translation is a treat.
Read my review of The Dangers of Smoking in Bed here.
Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo (trans. Daniel Balderston)
Genre: fantastical gothic
Per the publisher’s website, Thus Were Their Faces compiles some of Argentine writer Silvina Ocampo’s best, darkest, and most gothic short stories, which deal with “doubles and impostors, angels and demons … a beautiful seer who writes the autobiography of her own death … and much else that is incredible, mad, sublime, and delicious.” (A new Silvina Ocampo translation called The Impostor is also due out in late 2021.)
Vampyr by Carolina Andújar
Genre: vampiric gothic
The first in her “Carmina Nocturna” series, Vampyr—with that appropriately gothic ‘y’—is a campy foray into the world of 19th century Europe, where vampires are out for vengeance. A blend of mystery, fantasy, and romance, Vampyr follows Martina and new-kid-on-the-block Susana at a Swiss boarding school as a series of sinister events begins to unfold.
Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
Genre: magical realism
From Afro-Boricua writer Jamie Figueroa, a debut that’s been described as haunting, seductive, and masterly. Rafa and Rufina—two siblings in a fictional tourist town living in the aftermath of their mother’s death—engage in a life-or-death bet, set against a backdrop of generational trauma and present-day prejudice. As the plot unfurls, ghosts and angels make their voices heard.
La primera vez que vi una fantasma by Solange Rodríguez Pappe
Genre: fantastical ghost stories
A leading name in the Latin American short story form, although not yet translated into English, Solange Rodríguez Pappe conjures up tales where ghosts—per the publisher’s website—“live … in the body of a pregnant cat, are woven in a braid secured with a blue ribbon … and hide between the teeth of a tiny naked woman.” Rarely tangible, the spirits of these stories will leave you with a sense of deep unease.
Tierra fresca de su tumba by Giovanna Rivero
Genre: gothic realism
Another Latin American author that’s lauded in her home country but not widely known in English-speaking circles, Giovanna Rivero is a prolific writer of so-called gothic realism. Tierra fresca de su tumba—in six concise tales—explores cannibalism, incest, witchcraft, and more, taking us to the edge of the abyss we’d all rather ignore.
Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero (trans. Frances Riddle)
Genre: domestic horror
Over (unlucky for some) 13 short stories of domestic horror and violence, Ampuero creates razor sharp tales that manage to be both dark and depraved yet compelling. Less subtle creep and more outright gore, Cockfight immerses itself in bodily fluids and exposes the (mostly) men who lie beneath the perceived monsters.
Read my review of Cockfight here.
Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (trans. Sarah Moses)
Genre: dystopic horror
Subversive and disturbing, Tender is the Flesh considers a world where a mysterious virus (ahem) has pushed animals to extinction; in their lieu, humans are farmed for meat to satisfy capitalism’s desire for flesh. Probably not the right read for those of a queasy disposition, this Argentine novel is a provocative, dystopic take on consumption.
La sed by Marina Yuszczuk
Genre: vampiric terror
Split between a vampire stalking the streets of Buenos Aires during the Yellow Fever epidemic and a present-day woman walking the Recoleta graveyard with her child, La sed contemplates two sides of the mortal coin. Recently nominated for a Premio Filba, this is a novel that toys with both gender and history to create a compellingly creepy tale.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: gothic horror
Gothic horror meets Mexico in Mexican Gothic, which has undulating wallpaper, ghostly servants, and a haunted house with a mind of its own, all set against the backdrop of a former Mexican mining town. And when Mexico City socialite Noemí is thrust into the eerie world of an insular English family with oddly golden eyes, things start to take a turn for the spooky.
Malasangre by Michelle Roche Rodríguez
Genre: historic vampire
I’m a sucker for all things vampire, which is why Malasangre by Michelle Roche Rodríguez is making my must-read list for this Halloween. Set in 20s Venezuela, Malasangre blends history and fantasy to create an allegorical text which speaks to the role of women in society. With any luck, I’ll have a better review to come once I’ve really got my teeth into this novel.
A few forthcoming titles to add to 2022’s Halloween must-reads.
The Summer I Ate The Rich by Maika and Maritza Moulite
Genre: zombie fantasy
This forthcoming title from sisters Maika and Maritza Moulite twists Haitian zombie lore into a dark fantasy novel about Brielle Petitfour, a zombie chef who takes her vengeance out on the 1%. Described as “biting, whip smart fantasy that scrutinizes socioeconomic and racial inequity”, this is one title for which I’m dead (ba dum tss) excited.
Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda (trans. Sarah Booker)
Genre: fairy tale horror
Due out in Sarah Booker’s English-language translation in February 2022, Mónica Ojeda’s Jawbone—published in Spanish as Mandíbula—is about Fernanda and Annelise who share both secrets and after-school rituals. Touted by the publisher as interweaving pop culture and Lovecraftian horror, Jawbone is one of my most anticipated 2022 titles.
The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
Genre: supernatural suspense
Described by the publisher as a blend between Mexican Gothic and Rebecca, Isabel Cañas’ forthcoming debut The Hacienda is set in a post-revolution Mexico and blends hauntings, spooky houses, and missing women mysteries. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until spring 2022 for this one.