One of the best ways to get an understanding of a country you’re about to travel to, and really appreciate the place while you’re there, is to get stuck into the local literature. And Colombia is certainly no exception when it comes to literary gems that beautifully and honestly explore the country’s roots and modern history.
No surprises for guessing how I first became interested in Colombia as a potential travel destination and future home. It was through Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book, Love in the Time of Cholera.
The book was one of the main reasons I wanted to explore the country and live there myself. But there are loads of books that are sure to inspire your sense of adventure and a yearning to see the country for yourself.
Here is a list of some of the books I’ve come across, which will give readers a sense of what Colombia is about, without romanticising poverty and war, and even looking at situations with both humour and harsh reality. Take a walk along the paper trail of literature, and think of it as a magnifying glass on the country’s history, before you too decide to travel Colombia.
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I could suggest any one of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s books and it would be something of a beginner’s guide to the Colombian psyche. The Nobel laureate has moved many people around the world, inspiring people to see Colombia through the lens of Magic Realism. The tourism board of Colombia have even dedicated their latest tourism campaign to showcasing the magnificence of Magical Realism throughout the country. Gabo’s stories are part of the Colombian literary and cultural history and a trip to the country can’t be done without a read of one (or seven) of his books. One of my favourites is Love in the Time of Cholera, because I’m a hopeless romantic, but 100 Years of Solitude is another popular novel that walks you through the historical and cultural history of the country.
Maria, Jorge Isaacs
Another for the tragic romantics, this novel is one of Colombia’s most widely read classics and is about a woman named Maria and her cousin, Efraín, who fall in love just before he leaves for the capital, Bogota. A significant part of Colombia’s literary history, Isaac’s novel is perfect for those visiting the region of Valle del Cauca, just 40km away from Cali. There you can visit the Hacienda El Paraíso, where the novel was set.
Colombia a comedy of errors, Victoria Kellaway and Sergio J. Lievano
A joint effort by British journalist Victoria Kellaway (of Banana Skin Flip Flops) and British-Colombian artist and writer Sergio J. Lievano, Colombia a comedy of errors explores Colombia’s history through tongue-in-cheek humour and satirical observations. Including more than 160 caricatures of some of Colombia’s most recognisable faces, including Shakira, Bolivar, Botero and Uribe, the book explores what being Colombia really means and what the country is all about.
Dancing with Statues, Caroline Doherty de Novoa
Dancing with Statues is a story of love and conflict set in Ireland and Colombia. When Laura was just a teenager, her mother killed herself. She has lived with the mystery of why for ten years. Miguel is a Colombian lawyer investigating a bombing that took place at the end of the Northern Irish Troubles, only days after her mother’s death. Miguel’s appearance in Laura’s life initially gives her hope for a brighter future. Yet when he starts asking questions about her mother and the circumstances surrounding her death, their relationship begins to unravel, forcing Laura to delve into her family’s history in search of answers of her own. But will she let her history dictate her future? You’ll have to read it to find out!
La Voragine, Jose Eustasio Rivera
La Vorágine is the only novel written by José Eustasio Rivera, but he gave it his all, because it is considered to be one of the Colombian greats. It’s another romantic tale (are you sensing a theme here?) that follows poet Arturo and his lover Alicia, who take leave of the comforts of modern society and instead take to the Amazon jungles, shedding light on the lives of the indigenous who were enslaved during the exploitation of rubber.
The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, Álvaro Mutis
Writer and poet, Álvaro Mutis, wrote a series of novellas entitled The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, a series of tales that follow sailor Maqroll and his travels around the world. Like his leading character, Mutis also travelled the world, did some of his schooling in Brussels where his father was a diplomat, but then returned to Bogota to do his high school studies. While Mutis might not have critical acclaim, his writing is great for travellers looking to set out alone, as that is exactly what his main character does.
The Sound of Things Falling, Juan Gabriel Vasquez
Magic realism and romance are definitely not Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s thing. Introducing the author, Bomb Magazine said: “Colombian fiction writers today have to confront two shadows when facing the blank page: the culture of drug-trafficking and the legacy of García Márquez’s magical realism. Juan Gabriel Vásquez has managed to dodge both in his last two novels.” The Sound of Things Falling is an intimate portrayal of Colombia’s war on drugs.
Was Gabo an Irishman? by Caroline Doherty de Novoa, Richard McColl, Vicki Kellaway and others (including me!)
In Bogotá, a Spanish humanitarian worker attends a funeral without a body, as a storm of yellow butterflies swirls outside. In the jungle, an English anthropologist finds a tiny peace community fighting to preserve their way of life. And, somewhere in the Andes, an Australian coffee farmer confronts a guava-throwing witch in his tree. This collection brings together 26 personal essays by writers from across the world, all of whom have lived in Gabriel García Márquez’s homeland. For some, his words are the key to unlocking the enigma of Colombia. For others, living in the land of magic realism brings them a new understanding of his works. With magical rain, young lovers, grumpy old men, ghosts, conflict, politics, heartache, music, madness and more, these non-fiction stories are at once both singularly Colombian and universal in theme. I am also very excited to have an essay featured in the book. Be sure to grab a copy of your own, simply click the image above.
Short Walks from Bogotá: Journeys in the New Colombia, Tom Feiling
Short Walks from Bogota is a commentary on Colombia’s complex socio-political history as told by journalist Tom Feiling. Author of The Candy Machine, Tom talks to women who disappeared at the hands of paramilitaries, to former guerrilla fighters and their ex-captives, and the nomadic tribe who once thought they were the only people on earth and now charge $10 for a photo. Full of interesting characters and rich insights.
Now, as you can probably tell, there aren’t too many women on this list. If you have any female writers from Colombia that I should check out, please let me know in the comments section below. What are your favourite Colombian books and novels?