Every month, I try to read four books: one classic, one newish fiction title, something from my unread shelf, and one diverse read from the perspective of an author of color. Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15) offers the chance for me to learn more about my Hispanic siblings via books, my favorite teachers.
Here are four titles that will elevate your reading life, help you step in the shoes of Hispanic neighbors around the world, and teach you about Latin American history, cultures, foods, joys, and challenges:
- In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez
This modern classic, written in 1994 but referring to mid-20th-century events, is based on the true story of the Mirabal sisters—Patria, Mariá Teresa, and Minerva—together called las mariposas, or the butterflies. It’s an apt nickname, as butterflies are symbols of freedom from oppression. The butterflies fought for freedom from the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and led a resistance movement that inspired the world. I learned about the book from my teenage daughter, who read it in school. She thought it was “depressing” because three of the sisters are assassinated in the end, but I was energized by the raw courage of the sisters, real-life heroines depicted gloriously in historical fiction.
Another classic to consider: One Hundred Years of Solitude, a 1967 novel by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, is a premier achievement in world literature. It’s also soon to be a Netflix series.
- Violeta, by Isabel Allende
This sweeping novel from the great Chilean novelist Isabel Allende, still writing books at 81, tells the epic story of Violeta Del Valle, a woman whose life spans 100 years, from the Spanish flu pandemic to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Violeta bears Allende’s elegant use of language, comparative wholesomeness (it has no swearing or sex scenes, though characters do not live pristine moral lives), and a plot that carries you along like a rolling river. If you like this 2022 release, keep reading, because the prolific author has an even newer release: The Wind Knows My Name.
- Abuelita Faith, by Kat Armas
Highly recommended by a friend in Christian Reformed ministry, this book (from my unread shelf) weaves the faith history of the Cuban author’s grandmother with biblical reflection.
From the publisher: “Abuelita Faith tells the story of unnamed and overlooked theologians in society and in the Bible—mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters—whose survival, strength, resistance, and persistence teach us the true power of faith and love.”
- Good and Beautiful and Kind: Becoming Whole in a Fractured World, by Rich Villodas
“We have to rediscover the truth that wholeness, healing, and love are found in the ancient path of Jesus,” writes Villodas, who is of Puerto Rican heritage.
I adored this book, my favorite nonfiction read of 2022. Villodas is a winsome, relatable writer, and his stories will linger with me for years. But most importantly, I valued how this book gave me a new vision for being in this world—a more humble, healing, tender, and abiding way. As the back cover of the book says, “This isn’t the kind of book you read as much as the kind that reads—and transforms—you.”