Want to roam the Spanish countryside with Quixote? Break out of a prison tower in Poland? Search for true love with Fermina Daza? If you’re anything like us, your love for language and culture doesn’t stop at simply learning a new language. Your love affair with the world means that you seek out stories from all over the globe, and you see the library as a magical portal to some of the greatest literature in history.
We’re with you, and that’s why we’ve rounded up six classics of Spanish literature that you should check out at your library. Explore universal themes like love and death, truth and war through a new lens — and give yourself a cultural crash course along the way. If you’re already learning Spanish, why not take a stab at reading one of these classics in Spanish? Have a translation tool and a notebook handy, and you’ll be learning from the greats in no time.
1. "Don Quixote" — Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
There’s no better place to start your journey into classic Spanish literature than with "Don Quixote." Published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, many consider it one of the greatest novels ever written and the first modern novel. In it, Don Quixote reads too many romance novels and loses his mind (hey, we’ve all been there), prompting him to set out on a grand, albeit ill-informed, adventure to bring justice back to a world filled with wrongdoings and evil. When you finish the novel, circle back and re-read "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and see if you can spot the Quixote reference!
2. "El amor en los tiempos del cólera" — Gabriel García Márquez
You may better know this one by it’s English title, "Love in the Time of Cholera." Although this love story was published in 1985, it takes place nearly a century earlier, in a port city near the Caribbean Sea. Buckle in for a love story that spans the lifetime of its main characters, following them through love gained, love lost, and love found again. And yes — you’ll learn something about cholera along the way, for better or worse. Looking for more work by Márquez? Follow up this read with one of his most famous works, Cien años de soledad ["100 Years of Solitude"].
3. "Ficciones" — Jorge Luis Borges
This collection of short stories is the perfect introduction to one of Argentina’s most famous literary figures. First published in 1941, the final collection contains seventeen stories that take the reader into a labyrinth world of great imagination, intelligence, and skepticism. Warning: once you go Borges, you never go back. With an exhaustive bibliography, Borges will keep you busy.
4. "La vida es sueño" — Pedro Calderón de la barca
Mix things up and try your hand at reading a Spanish-language play. La vida es sueño ["Life is a Dream"] is a drama of the Spanish Golden Age and plays with themes of free will versus fate, dreams versus reality, and the conflict between father and son. The story centers around a father’s prophecy that his son, the Prince of Poland, will wreak havoc on the country, and his decision to lock his son away in a tower to prevent it. By the end of the play, you’ll be questioning what’s a dream and what’s real — is life a dream after all? You tell us.
5. "La ciudad y los perros" — Mario Vargas Llosa
More widely known in English as "The Time of the Hero," Llosa’s first novel brought him immediate fame. The story is a sharp satire and criticism of the Peruvian military as an institution, something that Llosa experienced as a cadet in military school. The book enraged leaders at the school so much that they publicly burned over a thousand copies and tried to condemn it as propaganda against Peru. As history tells us, banned books are almost always the most interesting — this one is no exception.
6. "El Lazarillo de Tormes" — Anonymous
Actually, the full title of this novella is far longer than that — it’s formal name is La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades ["The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and his Fortunes and Adversities"]. This novella was published in 1554 by an author who chose to remain anonymous since the themes went against popular beliefs at the time. In fact, this novel is thought to have spurred an entire genre of Spanish literature: the picaresque novel. Telling the stories of a pícaro [rascal; of low social class] getting by on his wits and going off on adventures (think Huck Finn), this genre is meant to amuse readers rather than convey moral meaning. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the misadventures of Lázaro.
Ready to get reading? Us too. Write up your reading list and head to your library to get started. While you’re there, why not spend some time brushing up on your Spanish language skills? There’s nothing like the thrill of successfully reading a book in another language, and we’ve got just the course to get you started. Find a public library with Mango near you and let the adventures begin!