I often peruse the pages of Words Without Borders to find out about exciting new writers from Latin America. Though some translators are commissioned by publishers, the majority of translators select their projects from a vast array of books in their source language—and this is absolutely the case for translators working from Spanish.
Currently, I’m keen on Jose Adiak’s new novel, El pais de las calles sin nombre (The Country of Nameless Streets), published by Seix Barral in May. His sixth novel tells the story of a woman whose grandmother sent her from Nicaragua to the U.S., “far from the misery, the long lines for food, the bullets, far from the unremitting threat of a country intent on destroying itself,” as Adiak writes.
Of course, most of the guns in this war are supplied by the U.S., and the book does an excellent job of portraying the disastrous effects of American intervention on Adiak’s homeland. Five years ago, Adiak was identified by the Guadalajara International Book Fair as one of the best Latinx writers born in the 1980s, and this year he is one of Granta’s best young Spanish-language novelists; he’s one to watch.
Elisa Levi is another tyro to keep an eye on. Born in 1994, she has already published a collection of poetry and two novels and written a play that has been staged in Madrid. Her latest novel, Yo no se de otras cosas (I Don’t Know Much Else), was published last month by Planeta’s Temas de Hoy imprint. It’s about a country girl in Spain who looks after her severely handicapped older sister with tender love and care, yet strains against the strictures of small-town life, yearning for the freedom of the big city.
The story is presented as a monologue by this precocious young woman, who tells it with wit—she’s full of pithy aphorisms—and wry humor. She’s an everywoman whose tragic tale illuminates the hopes and dreams of a girl bound by love and tradition to serve her family.
I haven’t read it yet, but I’m intrigued by the concept of Gabriela Wiener’s new book, Huaco retrato (Ancient Artifact), to be published by Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial in February 2022, in which she examines the collection of artifacts her Austrian great-grandfather assembled on his travels in Peru. We first published her work in the Words Without Borders magazine in 2015: an account of taking ayahuasca (which means “rope of the dead” in Quechua, because the hallucinations or visions it induces are said to connect those who imbibe it with their ancestors). It’s a riveting piece, which she reads aloud in Spanish on our website, too. She also contributed an excellent essay, “Three” (about ménages à trois), to our annual queer issue the following year; it follows in the tradition of Latin America’s finest writers while employing language that pays homage to the confessional poetics of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Sharon Olds. So I can’t wait to get my hands on her latest book.
These are just three of the titles that have caught my attention. This is a small sample of the riches available to an ambitious publisher who might want to mine the Spanish-language publishing catalogs for gold, which flows in rich seams that are as yet undiscovered by the majority of American publishers and, by extension, readers.
Samantha Schnee is a translator from Spanish to English and a cofounder of Words Without Borders. She lives in Houston, Tex.