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Motherhood and maternity—two topics that are central to, well, life itself. And yet, two topics so long relegated from the realm of “serious” literature, derided as trivial feminine concerns.
However, recent years have seen an English-language boom in writing about all things maternal and back in 2018, Lauren Elkin even published an article titled “Why All the Books About Motherhood?” in the Paris Review.
And Latin American writers haven’t been far behind the curve. Here are 11 books about maternity and motherhood from key Latin American writers including Lina Meruane and Jazmina Barrera. (And one bonus Spanish entry.)
Contra los hijos by Lina Meruane
In Contra los hijos (that is, “Against Children”), Chilean author Lina Meruane writes an acerbic diatribe against maternity, the “sacred filial empire”, one that argues that motherhood goes against (or cannot exist in conjunction with) the rights women have fought for over the years. It’s been marketed—I have to believe ironically—as a contraceptive akin to the pill.
In vitro by Isabel Zapata
Falling under the category of “literary essay”, Isabel Zapata—one of Mexico’s most interesting poets and essayists, as well as a literary translator in her own right—delves into the world of maternal nonfiction, recounting her experience of conception via IVF in In vitro. Not only is the cover (designed by Alejandro Magallanes) utterly gorgeous, but I also wouldn’t hesitate to say, sight unseen at the time of writing, that the prose is too.
Linea nigra by Jazmina Barrera
In luminous and limpid prose, characterised by her esoteric literary and artistic references blended with intensely personal revelations, Jazmina Barrera narrates the journey from pregnancy to lactation and motherhood in Linea nigra. A hybrid novel that incorporates elements of essay, novel, and diary entry, this is a beautiful and astute look at the reality of maternity.
Read my review of Linea nigra here.
The Bitch by Pilar Quintana (trans. Lisa Dillman)
A childless woman on the Colombian coast adopts a street dog as a substitute for the daughter she never had in The Bitch. But that’s as cute as it gets in this novella about life in a death-marred, unrelenting region of Colombia, where both the ocean and jungle are ambivalent to those who live alongside them. Quintana’s latest novel, Los abismos, also touches on maternity from a different point of view.
Read my review of The Bitch here.
La hija única by Guadalupe Nettel
One of Mexico’s foremost fiction writers, Guadalupe Nettel’s most recent novelistic foray, La hija única, puts forth a compelling take on maternity in which she blends three distinct viewpoints—that of an expectant mother to a child who won’t survive birth, her friend Laura, and Laura’s single mother neighbour. Although not yet in translation at the time of writing, I’ve no doubt that one’s coming. (Possibly from Rosalind Harvey?)
Related: In Conversation with Literary Translator Rosalind Harvey
Nine Moons by Gabriela Wiener (trans. Jessica Powell)
From Gabriela Wiener—one of my favourite Latin American writers and essayists—comes an exploration of sex, pregnancy, and motherhood, marked by her trademark forcefulness, irreverence, and wit. In Nine Moons, Wiener charts her nine months of pregnancy with provocative queries, dark misgivings, and abundant confusion-turned-essay.
(That pregnancy produced Coco Wiener, who now writes for Vice and El Diario.)
Read my review of Nine Moons here.
Maneras de escribir y ser / no ser madre by Various
Fourteen women—some with children, some with no children—discuss (un)motherhood, each one revealing distinct perspectives, nuances, and considerations regardless of their situation or stance on mothering in Maneras de escribir y ser / no ser madre from Mexican editorial Paraíso Perdido.
Mucha Madre edited by Andrea Fuentes
Mucha Madre, a compilation of essays and artworks from Mexican publishing house Almadía, brings together over a dozen women—including Ave Barrera, Jazmina Barrera, and Gabriela Jauregui—each of whom approach the topic of motherhood in their own way. This is a book of mothering multiplicity, one which paints a more holistic picture of maternity.
Siberia by Daniela Alcívar Bellolio
Ecuadorian writer Daniela Alcívar Bellolio’s foray into the realm of “writing on motherhood” is somewhat different from the other titles in this round-up. In Siberia, a work of autofiction that spans the course of a year, Alcívar Bellolio explores the death of her son a few hours after he was born and, in doing do, creates a powerful work about grief and grieving.
The Rooftop by Fernanda Trías (trans. Annie McDermott)
Per the publisher’s website, “The Rooftop is a claustrophobic novel about freedom, and also about fear, violence, motherhood and loss.” Written by one of Latin America’s most interesting writers, Fernanda Trías, The Rooftop centres on Clara, her daughter, and her father, the three of whom are trapped in an apartment together with only a canary and dread for company.
Empty Houses by Brenda Navarro (trans. Sophie Hughes)
Breathlessly narrated by two women—one the mother of a missing child, the other the woman who took him—Empty Houses offers an unrelenting, unsparing look at the realities of motherhood, both desired and otherwise, as well as the lengths you’ll ultimately go to for your child.
Read my review of Empty Houses here.
Bonus: World’s Best Mother by Spanish writer Nuria Labari (trans. Katie Whittemore) is funny, irreverent, and fascinating thanks to Labari’s smart and acerbic ruminations on the myth of motherhood and Whittemore’s sharp translation.