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The Most Popular South American Books Ever
Making literary lists is seen by many as an obscenity. Lists are often too subjective; books can be so personal and opinions vary extensively. However, today (March 5th, 2015) is World Book Day, and to celebrate this day I would like to go against everything I believe in and offer a list of South American books…
There is only one way to stay objective and democratic; let the world decide. Personally, I don’t believe that total sales is a great way to rank anything (I’m not a huge fan of either Avatar or Titanic, the top grossing films of all time, for example) but after looking through the list of all-time bestsellers I was happy with South America’s representation. Adiós objectivity. So here they are, short reviews of the three best selling and most exported South American books of all time:
1. The Alchemist (O Alquimista) by Paulo Coelho | Brazil | 1988 | 65 million copies sold
Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, originally published in Portuguese in 1988, has now been translated into 56 languages and is officially the most commercially successful book to come out of South America.
The Alchemist is a magical story about Santiago, a lonely shepherd boy who gets through his endlessly hot summer days in Southern Spain by dreaming about travelling the world. Santiago fantasises about discovering the most magnificent treasures known to man and mastering the ancient, allegorical art of alchemy.
Santiago crosses the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangiers and embarks upon a North African adventure to the Egyptian desert, where an epic encounter with the alchemist awaits him.
Why is this novel so incredibly popular and how does this novel resonate with so many?
Coelho explains to us in the introduction to the English translation that he honestly does not know, but he goes on to propose that perhaps it’s because “we all need to be aware of our personal calling.” The inspiration to follow our dreams, I am sure, is one of its numerous appeals. The novel is a colourful blend of spirituality, suspense and folklore, depicted fascinatingly in Coelho’s unique style of storytelling. When you turn the 163rd and final page, it is abundantly easier to understand exactly why this book has sold 65 million copies.
2. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad) by Gabriel García Márquez | Colombia | 1967 | 50 million copies sold
One Hundred Years of Solitude is widely considered the most important piece of the Latin American literary boom of the ’60s and ’70’s. Since then the story about ‘Macondo’; a metaphoric Colombia, has been translated into 37 languages and is without a shadow of a doubt the most critically acclaimed novel by the Nobel Prize for Literature winner.
Marquez, who sadly died of pneumonia in April of last year, will be forever remembered fondly for this piece of literary genius. Shortly after he passed away, the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said: “One Hundred Years of Solitude and sadness for the death of the greatest Colombian of all time”
One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the fantastic, amiable and ironic story of the rise and fall, birth, and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendia family. The novel is inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women. Marquez manages to recount Colombia as he envisions it, brimming with truth, compassion, and with a lyrical magic that is second to none.
The aforementioned The Alchemist has been more commercially successful, but unfortunately Coelho never takes the reader to South America. The beauty of One Hundred Years of Solitude is that it is a real insight into South America during the ’60’s, it’s almost as if you are watching Colombia through the glass of an aquarium.
3. Santa Evita by Tomás Eloy Martínez | Argentina | 1995 | 10 million copies sold
Tomás Eloy Martínez’s Santa Evita has been translated into 32 languages and published in 50 countries. Santa Evita is the most exported and translated Argentine book of all time.
Eva Perón or ‘Santa Evita’, was the wife of Juan Perón, the Argentine dictator and founder of the Perónist party. Having risen from obscurity ‘Santa Evita’ earned the love of Argentine people at an amazingly fast rate. So much so that her popularity was said to rival, if not exceed, that of Juan Perón himself, despite being the youngest daughter of an unwed mother, in a highly conservative and religious society. Her rise tot he top of the world of Argentine politics had been nothing short of spectacular.
However, Tomás Eloy Martínez didn’t write about her spectacular rise to stardom, he decided against writing about her short but eventful life. Santa Evita, instead, is about her corpse. When Eva died of cancer at the age of 33, her body was embalmed. Unfortunately for her remains, before she could be housed in a mausoleum for public display, Eva’s husband was overthrown in a military coup. Thus begins Martínez’s story; a fantastical comedy full of the calamitous tales of all those that came in contact with the corpse.