The best way to gain a flavor of Colombia’s culture, language, and history is to read some of the rich literature written by Colombian authors or set in the country. Below we present a few of the best books we highly recommend you read before you arrive:
1. The Sound of Things Falling(El ruido de las cosas al caer): Juan Gabriel Vásquez
This recently translated novel, set in the Colombia of the 1980s and 1990s, was a deserved winner of the prestigious Alfaguara literary prize in 2011. It traces the fate of a lawyer in Colombia in this violent era as he attempts to discover the life and history of a stranger whose murder he witnesses. This tale gives an interesting insight into Colombian culture and everyday life in the country 30 years ago. In 2013, the author released another recommended novel Las Reputaciones, as yet, only available in Spanish.
2. Chronicle of a Death Foretold(Crónica de una muerte anunciada): Gabriel García Marquez
No list of Colombian literature would be complete without a novel by Nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. While Marquez’s magnum opus is the world-renowned One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad), Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a thoroughly engaging, enjoyable and arguable more accessible read from the same author. It follows the attempts of a visitor to a small town to reconstruct a murder which everybody knew was going to happen, but that nobody did anything to prevent.
3. Colombian Spanish: Peter Low
This new eBook is the most comprehensive guide yet to the slang and unique features of Colombian Spanish. Written by a British journalist, and long-time Colombia expat, the book is packed full of tips to help you move away from speaking ‘gringo Spanish’, to mastering the language as it is actually spoken in Colombia.
Unlike most language books, which contain nothing but grammar and written exercises, Colombian Spanish is an easily accessible tour through the language heard in everyday social situations in the country. The book explains how to use hundreds of local slang terms and expressions, and provides all the linguistic tools you’ll need to make jokes, socialize with, and date Colombians.
Want to speak Spanish with Colombians as naturally as you'd chat in English with your friends back home? Well, you'll need to learn a load of local slang and expressions first.
Thisshows you the fun stuff that your textbook missed.
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4. One River: Wade Davis
Another book penned by a prize winning author (Wade Davis won the Samuel Johnson prize in 2012) plots the lives and experiences of Richard Evans Schultes and his student Wade Davis in their respective explorations into the Amazon jungle. Davis’ passion for Colombia, its inhabitants, indigenous traditions and natural environment shine through on every page of this gripping tale.
5. Short Walks from Bogotá: Journeys in the New Colombia: Tom Feiling
In Short Walks from Bogota, Feiling, an experienced writer and journalist, travels to parts of Colombia only recently reclaimed from illegally armed groups and engagingly recounts the tales of those who meets whilst there. The book looks to explain some of the contradictory aspects of Colombian culture, and the story of recent regeneration, through the stories of a diverse range of interviewees: former guerrillas and their victims, poor peasant farmers, natural resource barons and everyone in between.
6. The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Colombia: Michael Jacobs
Part adventure story and part political history, The Robber of Memories traces Jacobs’ journey up along the emblematic Magdalena River in 2011. The 1,500km Magdalena River runs from the heart of the country, right up to the Caribbean coast. Travelling along the waterway, Jacobs narrates the dangers he faces, all the while detailing the history and fate of local populations and natural surroundings as he progresses. Encounters with the novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez and, less fortuitously, with FARC insurgents add extra interest to this immaculately written tale.
7. Delirium: Laura Restrepo
Restrepo’s highly acclaimed book explores the story of a husband who, after a three-day trip, returns home to find his wife has gone mad. In an effort to figure out what has happened, and to bring his wife back to normality, the protagonist begins delving deeper into her life and background. As he does, he rapidly uncovers that his spouse has been keeping secrets from him about deep traumas in her past.
8. The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll: Álvaro Mutis
A series of seven novellas which chart the trials and tribulations of the eponymous character as he travels across the world. The book follows Maqroll “El Gaviero” (“the lookout”) as he gets into a whole host of adventures on both land and sea, which cover the full range of human experience: love, life, death, friendships and scrapes with the law.
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