The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto Che Guevara

motorcycle diariesIn 1950, 23-year-old Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado decided to take a year off from their studies to travel South and Central America on a motorbike they called La Poderosa.  Carrying few possessions and little money, they left Buenos Aires for a nine-month journey through Argentina, Peru, Chile, and several other countries.  Along the way, they sleep in fields and barns, visit leper colonies, fall off the bike more times than they can count, work on board a steamship in exchange for free passage, and witness the poverty and injustice that would inform Guevara’s infamous revolutionary career.

Quote:
“At night, after the exhausting games of canasta, we would look out over the immense sea, full of white-flecked and green reflections, the two of us leaning side by side on the railing, each of us far away, flying in his own aircraft to the stratospheric regions of our own dreams.  There we understood that our vocation, our true vocation, was to move for eternity along the roads and seas of the world. ”

Author:
Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967) was a doctor, writer, and revolutionary guerrilla leader who played a large role in the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s.  He was captured and executed in 1967 while attempting to gather a guerrilla militia in the mountains of Bolivia.

Published:  1993
Length:  175 pages
Set in:  Argentina; Chile; Peru; Ecuador; Colombia; Venezuela; Panama; and Florida, United States

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The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

imageWhen the San Luis Rey rope bridge collapses in the year 1714 and kills five people, a Peruvian monk named Brother Juniper hastens to investigate the meaning of these senseless deaths.  This short novel explores the lives of the bridge’s victims — including two children and a Marquesa — and how each came to be on the bridge that fateful day.

Quote:
“Now he discovered that secret from which one never quite recovers, that even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other. There may be two equally good, equally gifted, equally beautiful, but there may never be two that love one another equally well.”

Author:
Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) was a playwright, novelist, and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner.  Some of his most famous works include Our Town, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and The Skin of Our Teeth.

Published:  1927
Length:  128 pages
Set in:  Peru

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The Old Patagonian Express: By Train through the Americas by Paul Theroux

old patagonian expressIn Boston, Massachusetts, Paul Theroux boards a train.  The subsequent journey takes him through lush landscapes and harsh deserts, finds him struggling with fellow passengers, and reading to the blind author Jorge Luis Borges.  From Mexico to Honduras to Costa Rica and Colombia, Theroux brings his signature wit, snark, and keen observation.

Quote:
“Reading alters the appearance of a book. Once it has been read, it never looks the same again, and people leave their individual imprint on a book they have read. Once of the pleasures of reading is seeing this alteration on the pages, and the way, by reading it, you have made the book yours.”  

Author:
Paul Theroux is the author of more than three dozen books, including both fiction (The Mosquito Coast, My Secret History) and non-fiction (Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, The Pillars of Hercules, Dark Star Safari).  He lives in London with his family.

Published:  1979
Length:  404 pages
Set in:  United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina

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The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman

good girl's guide to getting lostThe Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost opens with Friedman’s decision to spend a summer in Ireland during college.  After Leaving Ireland, she continues on to Australia and then backpacks through South America.  Misgivings plague her throughout the book — that she isn’t living up to her parents’ expectations, that she is wasting her life traveling, that she has become disconnected from the “real world” — but they never outweigh her love of the journey.

Quote:
“As centuries of inebriated Irish before me have surely found strange wisdom at the bottom of their Guinness glasses, so too do I as I polish off my third one: apparently, I am not the center of the universe, and the earth will continue to revolve around the sun whether or not I decided to spend a puposeless summer in Ireland.  This is the kind of revelation that is liberating when you are drunk, and rather depressing when you are sober, but luckily, at the moment I am the former.”

Author:
Rachel Friedman has lived, worked, or traveled in twenty countries.  She currently teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost is her first book.

Published:  2011
Length:  386 pages
Set in:  Australia, Ireland, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Chile

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Lima Nights by Marie Arana

lima nightsLima Nights is a short novel about an unlikely affair.  One night Carlos Bluhm, a wealthy, married businessman, goes to a tango club and becomes captivated by Maria, one of the club’s dancers.  While Bluhm sees Maria as a diversion from his unfulfilling life, she sees his attention as a way out of the poverty she may otherwise never escape.

Quote:
“He didn’t recognize her immediately, although he was drawn to the face.  Her hair was pulled into a tidy knot at the nape of her neck and she wore no lipstick, but, as she chatted with the cashier animatedly, the unmistakable loveliness was there and, when he scoured his memory, he remembered the dress, the fruity perfume, and the drunken night — two weeks before — when a woman with the same face had led him to the dance floor.”

Author:
Marie Arana is a Peruvian-American author of seven books, including Bolivar and Cellophane.  She worked for the Washington Post for many years as an editor, and has written for The New York Times, National Geographic, and El Pais.

Published:  2008
Length:  256 pages
Set in:  Peru

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