‘Sunstroke’ by Horacio Quiroga, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden and George D. Schade

Why oh why has Werner Herzog not made a film about Horacio Quiroga yet? The themes of his stories demand it: madness, the jungle, nature, civilization, barbarity, snakebites, parasites growing fat on the blood of young brides, indifferent animals watching humans die, ranting and raving, in the brutal afternoon sun. And let’s not get started on Quiroga’s lifestory, which involves his father’s accidental death via shotgun, three marriages, accidentally killing his best friend, an obsession with girls decades years younger than him, a close friendship with poet and future fascist Leopoldo Lugones, his wife’s suicide (poison), and his own (poison again). You might say he puts the Poe in the Poe-esque. I think my favorite story of his is ‘Sunstroke’, narrated from the point of view of a pack of dogs.

In The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories, University of Texas Press, 2013

‘Birds in the Mouth’ by Samantha Schweblin, translated by Joel Streiker for PEN America

Samantha Schweblin has been one of my favorite short story writers for years, so it’s been thrilling to see her gain so much international notoriety recently, with her Man Booker International Prize-nominated novel, Fever Dream. I highly encourage you to seek out her translated short fiction, available online in places like the New YorkerGranta, and Words Without Borders. Her themes include children, adulthood, fertility, consumerism, and environmental illnesses. I had to go with ‘Birds in the Mouth’ as my favorite, due to its relentless exploration of a young’s girl’s appetite (is there anything scarier to society than a young girl who knows exactly what she wants, and unceasingly pursues it?), and its central question: “what it would feel like to swallow something warm and moving, to have something full of feathers and feet in your mouth.”

Available to read online here. First published in Pájaros en la boca y otros cuentos. Editorial Lumen, 2010

‘Razor Blades’ by Lina Meruane, translated by Janet Hendrickson

I love this story for its eerie and mesmerizing evocation of the “we” perspective. I can’t help but wonder how well this group of girls would fall into line under a military dictatorship. And I can’t decide if the ending is sexy or scary – a cathartic gathering of empowered witches, or the terrifying rise of groupthink. I also highly recommend the anthology it’s included in, as a wonderful introduction to contemporary short Latin American fiction.

Included in The Future is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction, Open Letter, 2012. Read a different translation by Meruane in collaboration with Ronald Christ online here

‘Alfredito’ by Liliana Colanzi, translated by Jessica Sequeira

What a talent Colanzi is! Her collection Our Dead World was published last year and deserves more attention. The story I’ve chosen for this list, ‘Alfredito’, combines three of my primary obsessions: death, childhood, and UFO kidnappings.

In Our Dead World, Central Books, 2017. Available to read online in in a translation by Chris Meade here

‘Men Animal Vines’ by Silvina Ocampo, translated by Daniel Balderston

If you’re a fan of Borges and Cortázar, reading Ocampo is a must. Clarice Lispector and Leonora Carrington buffs, bow down – Silvina is the queen! Her stories often involve creepy children being tortured or torturing. Dreamlike, nightmarish, hallucinatory, prose poems, just plain weird – all these adjectives are acceptable. My personal favorite from her recently translated collection is “Men Animal Vines,” another appropriately Herzogian piece. A man is the sole survivor of a plane crash and must survive in the jungle as vines threaten to consume everything in reach. And that final sentence! Talk about a twist that makes you look up from the page with a frown on your face and say, … what? But then you start to smile as you say: … Whoa!

in Thus Were Their Faces, NYRB Classics, 2016

Police Rat’ by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Chris Andrews

“They call me Pepe the cop because that’s exactly what I am; it’s a job like any other, but few people are prepared to take it on.”

I love this story so much it hurts. Like Kafka’s ‘Josephine the Mouse Singer’ (a story that ‘Police Rat’ is deliberately linked to), ‘Police Rat’ was written near the end of Bolaño’s life, when Bolaño (like Kafka) was extremely sick. Themes in ‘Police Rat’ include the role of the artist in society, violence, and what point there is, if any, to anything. “I know how to move in the dark,” Pepe stubbornly insists at the end, a mantra for writing if there ever was one. Despite all signs to the contrary, Pepe keeps working till the very end, like Bolaño himself. I don’t know if that’s the best way to face death. But for Bolaño and Pepe, it seemed to be consolation enough.

In The Insufferable Gaucho, Picador, 2015