20 Of The Best Mexican Novels

The best Mexican novels and fiction reflects the country’s complex history and vibrant culture. Mexican novelists have long been praised for their exploration of social and political issues, their use of magical realism, and their deep connection to their cultural heritage.

One of the defining characteristics of Mexican fiction is its exploration of social and political issues. From the revolutionary fervour of the early 20th century to the ongoing struggles of contemporary Mexico, Mexican novelists given voice to the marginalized,  challenged the status quo, and exposed the injustices of society.

Magical realism, a literary genre that seamlessly blends fantasy and reality, has also become a hallmark of Mexican fiction. This style of writing, often employed to explore the complexities of Mexican identity and history, has been popularized by such authors as Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes, and Laura Esquivel.

Beyond its social and political engagement and its embrace of magical realism, Mexican fiction is also deeply rooted in the country’s rich cultural heritage. From the pre-Columbian era to the present day, Mexican novelists have drawn inspiration from the country’s indigenous traditions, folklore, and art, weaving these elements into their stories to create a uniquely Mexican literary landscape.

Here are twenty of the best Mexican novels:

Cartucho, by Benito Pérez Galdós, 1879

A sweeping historical novel set against the backdrop of 19th-century Madrid, “Cartucho” by Benito Pérez Galdós chronicles the rise and fall of a charismatic bandit leader. Through the eyes of the narrator, a young journalist, we follow Cartucho’s meteoric rise from humble origins to his status as a folk hero and symbol of rebellion. Yet, beneath the veneer of charisma and audacity lies a complex character driven by ambition, desperation, and a yearning for recognition. As Cartucho’s reign of defiance intensifies, the authorities close in, leading to a dramatic confrontation that exposes the deep-rooted social tensions and political turmoil of the era.

The Labyrinth of Solitude, by Octavio Paz, 1950

A profound and insightful exploration of Mexican identitythe novel delves into the complex cultural and psychological landscape of Mexico. Through a blend of philosophical musings, historical reflections, and personal anecdotes, Paz dissects the Mexican psyche, highlighting its contradictions, its deep-seated sense of isolation, and its yearning for connection. He examines the influence of the country’s history, its blend of indigenous and Spanish traditions, and its struggles with modernity, all of which contribute to the labyrinthine nature of Mexican identity.

Aura, by Carlos Fuentes, 1962

A chilling and suspenseful novel that follows the story of a young man named Felipe Montero, who travels to Mexico City to work for his wealthy aunt. Upon his arrival, he is struck by the strange and unsettling atmosphere of his aunt’s home, and he soon begins to experience a series of disturbing events. As he delves deeper into the mysteries of the house and its inhabitants, he uncovers a dark and sinister secret.

The Death of Artemio Cruz, by Carlos Fuentes, 1962

Through a kaleidoscopic tapestry of memories and fading consciousness, Carlos Fuentes unveils the moral decay of a powerful figure in “this novel. As Artemio Cruz, a corrupt and disillusioned businessman, faces his final hours, the fractured narrative delves into the depths of his regrets, betrayals, and insatiable ambition. Weaving through Mexico’s turbulent history, the novel confronts us with the consequences of power, the fleeting nature of wealth, and the inescapable grip of mortality.

Battles in the Desert, by Jose Emilio Pacheco, 1981

In the heart of post-revolutionary Mexico City, a young man named Carlos struggles to find meaning in a world marked by political turmoil and personal alienation. Through his fragmented memories and reflections, the novel explores themes of love, loss, and the search for identity in a rapidly changing society. As Carlos navigates the labyrinth of his own thoughts and emotions, he grapples with the complexities of Mexican history and the challenges of forging a path for himself in an uncertain future.

Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel, 1989

A magical realism masterpiece, emotions simmer and infuse every dish as Tita, a young woman bound by tradition, expresses her passion and longing through her culinary creations. A tapestry of forbidden love, family secrets, and the enduring power of tradition unfolds. Each chapter, named after a delectable Mexican dish, becomes a delectable metaphor for Tita’s stifled desires and the profound interconnectedness of food, love, and life.

On Lighthouses, by Jean-Pierre Duchâteau, 1992

A meditative and poetic novel that explores the lives of lighthouse keepers, their relationship to the sea, and the solitude of their existence. Through the stories of several lighthouse keepers, the novel delves into themes of isolation, loss, and the search for meaning in the vastness of the sea.

The Underdogs, by Roberto Bolaño, 1998

Amidst the vibrant counterculture scene of 1970s Mexico City, a group of poets and intellectuals navigate the treacherous landscape of political upheaval and artistic ambition. Their lives intertwine in a mesmerizing tapestry of voices and perspectives, exposing the underbelly of Mexican society and the relentless pursuit of literary recognition.

The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño, 1998

In the tumultuous landscape of 1970s Mexico, two young poets, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, embark on a quixotic quest to find the legendary poet Cesárea Tinajero. Their journey takes them across the country, immersing them in the vibrant counterculture scene and exposing the dark underbelly of Mexican society. Through their intertwined narratives and fragmented recollections, the novel delves into themes of art, politics, and the complexities of human relationships. Amidst the chaos and violence of their surroundings, Arturo and Ulises’s pursuit of Tinajero transforms into a profound exploration of their own identities and the search for meaning in a world teetering on the brink of revolution.

In Search of Klingsor by Jorge Volpi, 1999

In Jorge Volpi’s captivating novel, In Search of Klingsor, the reader is transported to the tumultuous aftermath of World War II, where the lines between truth and deception blur amidst the pursuit of scientific advancement. Francis Bacon, a brilliant young American physicist, is invited to join the prestigious Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, a hotbed of scientific innovation and intrigue.

As Bacon delves into the world of postwar physics, he becomes increasingly fascinated by the enigmatic figure of Klingsor, a shadowy scientist rumored to have been involved in Hitler’s secret weapons program. Driven by a relentless curiosity and a sense of justice, Bacon embarks on a quest to uncover the truth about Klingsor, a journey that takes him from the hallowed halls of academia to the dark corners of postwar Germany. Bacon’s pursuit of Klingsor becomes a complex and captivating game of cat and mouse, as he navigates a world of espionage, betrayal, and moral ambiguity. Along the way, he encounters a cast of richly drawn characters, each with their own motives and secrets, further deepening the mystery surrounding Klingsor.

Down the Rabbit Hole, by Juan José Saer, 1999

In the sleepy town of Santa Rosa, Argentina, a man named Tomás de Elía finds himself entangled in a web of secrets and intrigue. As he delves deeper into the town’s hidden history, he uncovers a series of unsolved murders that have long haunted the community. Through his investigations, Tomás becomes increasingly isolated, his own sanity hanging by a thread. The novel blurs the lines between reality and illusion, creating a surreal and unsettling atmosphere that mirrors Tomás’s deteriorating mental state. As he descends deeper into the labyrinth of his own mind, Tomás confronts the darkness that lurks within himself and the town’s inhabitants, questioning the very nature of truth and perception.

The Forgery, by Jonathan Lethem, 2004

In the art-obsessed world of 1960s New York City, a young man’s fascination with a masterful forgery leads him down a labyrinth of deception and betrayal. As he delves deeper into the shadowy world of art authentication, he finds himself entangled in a thrilling game of cat and mouse, where the lines between truth and illusion blur.

Ramifications, by Daniel Kehlmann, 2009

A historical novel set in 18th-century Germany, following the story of a young man named Johann Fichte. Fichte is a brilliant and ambitious philosopher, but his life is turned upside down when he is accused of heresy. Forced to flee his homeland, Fichte embarks on a journey of self-discovery, questioning his beliefs and the very foundations of his society.

Hurricane Season, by Denise Chávez, 2012

A poignant and evocative novel set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Season weaves a tale of resilience, loss, and the enduring bonds of family. The story follows the lives of two families, the Chicanos and the Cajuns, as they navigate the devastation left behind by the storm and grapple with the personal losses it has inflicted. Through their interconnected narratives, Chávez explores themes of displacement, cultural identity, and the enduring power of hope amidst the wreckage of disaster.

Sudden Death, by Álvaro Enrigue, 2013

In a daring and thought-provoking work of historical fiction, Álvaro Enrigue’s Sudden Death intertwines the lives of three individuals from vastly different backgrounds: a Spanish conquistador, a 20th-century photographer, and a contemporary amateur filmmaker. Through their interconnected narratives, the novel takes the reader into the dark history of colonialism and the devastating impact of European exploration on indigenous cultures. Enrigue masterfully blends historical facts with fictional elements, creating a powerful and disturbing commentary on the legacy of violence and the quest for truth. As the intertwined stories unfold, the novel challenges readers to confront the complexities of human history and the enduring consequences of colonialism.

Faces in the Crowd, by Valeria Luiselli, 2014

A young Mexican writer, haunted by the ghosts of her past, returns to her homeland, seeking solace in the anonymity of New York City. Her journey becomes intertwined with the stories of marginalized voices, their struggles echoing the plight of immigrants and displaced individuals. Amidst the cacophony of the city, she finds herself drawn to the work of Gilberto Owen, a forgotten Mexican poet, and his own struggles for recognition and belonging. As she delves into his life and work, she begins to uncover the parallels between their experiences, their shared sense of exile and longing for home.

The Story of My Teeth, by Valeria Luiselli, 2015

In a captivating blend of fiction and nonfiction, Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth follows the journey of Highway Sánchez, a world-traveling auctioneer and self-proclaimed connoisseur of curiosities. Sánchez, a captivating and enigmatic figure, collects and sells objects of dubious authenticity, spinning elaborate tales of their provenance to enthrall his audience. Among his most prized possessions are a set of teeth purported to have belonged to Marilyn Monroe, which he intends to sell at an auction in New York City. The novel interweaves Sánchez’s stories with the reflections of his daughter, a keen observer of her father’s eccentricities and the world around her. As they navigate the complexities of their relationship and the challenges of their nomadic lifestyle, the novel explores themes of identity, authenticity, and the power of storytelling.

Umami, by Laia Jufresa, 2017

A coming-of-age novel set in Barcelona, Spain, following the story of a young woman named Carla. Through Carla’s eyes, we see the city come to life, filled with food, love, and the complexities of life. As Carla navigates her teenage years, she learns about herself and the world around her, discovering the importance of family, friends, and the power of food.

Paradais, by Fernanda Melchor, 2019

A raw and disturbing novel set in a small town in Mexico, following the story of a group of teenagers. The teenagers are trapped in a cycle of violence and poverty, their lives spiralling out of control. As they struggle to survive, they are haunted by the spectre of a brutal crime that took place years ago.

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, 2020

A gothic horror novel set in 1950s Mexico, following the story of Noemí Taboada, a young woman who travels to Colima to visit her estranged father. Upon arrival, she discovers that her father is in a coma and that the family’s hacienda is haunted by a malevolent presence. As Noemí investigates the strange happenings at the hacienda, she uncovers a dark secret that has been hidden for generations.


And that’s our list of the twenty best Mexican novels. What’s your take on these – any surprises, or any Mexican fiction not on this list that you feel should make the list?

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