Summer reading: Latin America edition

Summer reading: Latin America edition

Looking for some summer reading? FP‘s got you covered. In coming weeks, we’ll feature reading lists from some of the top thinkers and experts on the topics they have made their own. Today’s list — a collection of the best English books about Latin America — comes from Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington: 

Mario Vargas Llosa, The Feast of the Goat

It’s not surprising Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa’s take on a dictator novel, a popular Latin American genre, is superb. Blending fiction and history, Vargas Llosa offers shrewd insights into how Rafael Trujillo, or El Jefe — the boss, was able to extend his rule of the Dominican Republic for three decades. The novel was published in 2000, a decade after Vargas Llosa himself lost as a candidate to Alberto Fujmori in Peru’s presidential elections. 

Sally Bowen, The Fujimori File: Peru and its President, 1990-2000

Fujimori’s election as Peru’s president in 1990 was the most stunning political upset in recent Latin American history.  Through meticulous research, Bowen, a British journalist who worked for the Financial Times, draws a vivid portrait of the "man who came from nowhere," as she put it.  Bowen later wrote a fine biography of Fujimori’s right-hand man,  The Imperfect Spy: The Many Lives of Vladimiro Montesinos.

"The Fall of Fujimori" (Documentary Film, Directed by Ellen Perry)

After watching this documentary, it is not hard to understand why Alberto Fujimori enjoyed high approval levels during most of his decade-long presidency and why his daughter Keiko, a congresswoman, is a serious contender for next April’s presidential elections.  This prospect is striking in light of her father’s regime — one marked by human rights abuses and spectacular corruption for which Fujimori is now serving a 25-year prison sentence.

Gabriel Garcia Márquez, "The Two Faces of Hugo Chávez" (essay)

Garcia Márquez’s short essay, written after a flight from Havana to Caracas accompanied by Hugo Chávez at the start of the Venezuelan president’s rule in February 1999, contains some of the most perceptive observations about Chávez ever written. The concluding lines are remarkably prescient:  "I was struck by the impression that I had traveled and talked delightfully with two opposite men — one who good luck had given the opportunity to save his nation. And the other, an illusionist, who could go down in history as just another despot."

Cristian Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka, Hugo Chávez: The Definitive Biography of Venezuela’s Controversial President

There have already been many Chávez biographies and there are doubtless many more to come, but unfortunately most tend to be either hagiographies or hatchet jobs. This one, by contrast, is a judicious and measured treatment of Chávez by two young Venezuelan journalists who did extensive research and succeed in shedding light on his complex personality and what drives him. It nicely shows how particular events shaped Chávez, and it depicts how he, in turn, is shaping his country’s and the region’s history.

Tad Szulc, Fidel: A Critical Portrait

No Latin American leader has drawn as much attention as Fidel Castro.  There have been many biographies, some of them quite good, but this one by longtime Latin American journalist Tad Szulc particularly stands out. Szulc, who covered the Cuban Revolution for the New York Times, had extraordinary access to Castro and to Cuban government archives. Though the book is a bit dated (it was written in 1985), it contains incomparably rich material and captures the many contradictions of this larger-than-life figure who remains the subject of endless fascination.    

Heraldo Muñoz, The Dictator’s Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet

Chilean intellectual and diplomat Herald Munoz has written what he calls a "political memoir" on the 17-year dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. After two decades of a center-left coalition in power and the recent shift to a conservative government in Chile, Pinochet’s legacy is still hotly debated. Munoz does not pretend to be unbiased, but he makes a cogent argument that Pinochet’s repression was terribly costly and that the foundation for the country’s recent economic success could only have been achieved in a democracy.