You know you’re doing something right when Roxane Gay calls your second novel “beautifully written, tangible, engaging.” In fact, Natalia Sylvesteris doing a lot of things right.
The Peruvian American author and an outspoken advocate of Latinx writing has just released her second book; the follow-up to her successful debut,Chasing The Sun.Her newest workEveryone Knows You Go Homeis being called a darkly funny undocumented immigrant ghost story, centering on a father-in-law who refuses to pass on to the afterlife with his harrowing experiences of crossing the Mexican-American border.Real Simplehas named the book one of the best reads of 2018 (so far) and it’s easy to see why. It’s a story about the lengths one family will go to for redemption and at its core, the concept of belonging.
We asked the former magazine editor turned acclaimed author to do the near impossible; name just three books whose impact changed the course of her life.
Little Womenby Louisa May Alcott
I’m sure it’s not the most original pick, but I can’t think of the wordsbooksandgrowing upwithout thinking of this one. I first heard aboutLittle Womenfrom my mother—she mentioned it a few times in passing, and of course to her, growing up in Peru, it had been calledMujercitas. The diminutive phrasing shrunk the idea of it in my mind, so that when I finally did read the book (at the time, since I was nine, I began with the shorter children’s version) I was surprised by how not-little it and the lives of its characters felt.
By the time I was twelve I was obsessed; I graduated to the full text, then readLittle MenandJo’s Boys, which to this day is still my favorite. I followed Jo’s life with the fervor of a child reading an adventure book. Her constant push to live life on her terms was heroic to me.
The Book of Embracesby Eduardo Galeano
My senior year of high school, we were assigned this book of vignettes by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. The epigraph read:“Recordar: To remember; from the Latinre-cordis,to pass back through the heart.” There was also an author’s note in Spanish in which Galeano pays tribute to his translator of many years, Cedric Belfrage, who’d passed. He wrote, “…I would recognize myself in each of his translations and he would feel betrayed and annoyed whenever I didn’t write something the way he would have.”
I was 16 and I’d only begun to be exposed to Latin American literature, having spent my whole life not knowing I was starved for it. I was thinking, learning, reading in English, but my first language had been Spanish. I’d never had the words to describe what I’d felt all my life, and here they were, somewhere between memory and translation.
I was captivated by Clara with her notebooks and Rosa with her mermaid-like hair. I began to imagine language that was untethered from reality, but still a reflection of it. This was not fantasy as an escape, but rather, a way to recognize the fantastical that shaped our existence.
Reading Allende taught me that there are greater things than being true to life; there is being true to truths that are hidden or erased and yet deeply felt.