Required Reading for Colombia: a totally subjective and incomplete list

There is an embarrassment of riches on offer to those seeking out Colombian literature in its original Spanish, versions in English or just books on Colombia written in English. This curated list is by no means complete, blending history, politics, early 20th century love stories, journalism, contemporary horrors and magic realism amongst other genres. But, hopefully it provides a starting point for a love-affair with or a deeper understanding of Colombia.

Obviously, no collection of books on Colombia would be complete without a couple of works by Gabriel García Márquez, but we have tried not to overwhelm you with his astonishing back catalogue as it would be all too easy to flood the list with his writing.

Hector Abad Faciolince, Alfredo Molano and Juan Gabriel Vásquez could provide you with a healthy insight into Colombia’s reckoning with her past and her struggles for an identity, but we have tried to include more sources here in addition to these excellent writers.

In terms of journalistic style reportage on the cocaine trade, war correspondent Toby Muse has written the most complete first-person narrative based on direct research. There are, as you can imagine, plenty of stories of those kidnapped and held by one armed group or another, but none is more harrowing than that of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

For a sociological look at the changes taking place in Colombia, Matt Rendell uses the lens of Colombia’s awe-inspiring cyclists to show how soft diplomacy can make a difference.

Themes of patriarchy and nationhood run deep in a great deal of the literature devoted to Colombia and William Ospina, Pilar Quintana and Laura Restrepo pursue these ideas profoundly. For photo-journalism, look no further than offerings by Carlos Villalon, Stephen Ferry and Malcolm Linton. 

I could have divided up the books under subject headings, but rather than enter into semantics and pedantry, I just left them in alphabetical order. Dive in to my totally subjective collection and recommendations gleaned from the twittersphere.

Any links below will take you to the Colombia Calling podcast interview on Spotify with the author in question.

Required reading for Colombia

  • Abad Faciolince, Hector. Oblivion, 2013.
  • Alvarez Gardeazábal, Gustavo.  Cóndores no entierran todos los días, 1985. 
  • Arana, Marie. Bolívar, American Liberator, 2014.
  • Ballvé, Teo. The Frontier Effect: State Formation and Violence in Colombia, 2020.
  • Behar, Olga. Noches de humo. Los protagonistas, 2010. 
  • Bennion, Neil. Dancing Feat: One Man’s Mission to Dance Like a Colombian, 2014.
  • Betancourt, Ingrid. Even Silence has an End: My six years of captivity, Penguin Press 2010.
  • Bibliowicz, Azriel. Rumor Del Astracan, 2013. 
  • Birenbaum Quintero, Michael. Rites, Rights and Rhythms: A Genealogy of Musical Meaning in Colombia’s Black Pacific, 2018. 
  • Bowden, Mark. Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw, 2018. 
  • Britto, Lina. Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia’s First Drug Paradise, 2020. 
  • Brodzinsky, Sibylla. Throwing Stones at the Moon: Narratives from Colombians Displaced by Violence, 2012.
  • Burnyeat, Gwen. Chocolate, Politics and Peace-Building: An Ethnography of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia, 2018.
  • Bushnell, David. The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself, Berkeley 1993.
  • Caicedo, Andrés. ¡Que viva la música! 1977.
  • Castillo, Fabio. Los jinetes de la cocaína, 1987. 
  • Castro Caycedo, El Karina, 1998.  
  • Chao, Ramón The Train of Ice and Fire: Mano Negra in Colombia, 2010. 
  • Davis, Wade. One River. Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest, 1997. 
  • Davis, Wade. Magdalena: River of Dreams: A Story of Colombia, 2020.
  • Delgado Lopera, Juli.  Fiebre Tropical, 2020.
  • Doherty de Novoa, Caroline. Was Gabo an Irishman?: Tales from Gabriel García Márquez’s Colombia, 2015. 
  • Dudley, Steven. Walking Ghosts: Murder and Guerrilla Politics in Colombia, 2003.
  • Escobar, Melba.  House of Beauty, 2021. 
  • Fals-Borda, Orlando. Subversion and Social Change in Colombia, 1969. 
  • Farnsworth-Alvear, Ann, Palacio, Marco and Gómez López, Ana María. The Colombia Reader: History, Culture, Politics, 2017. 
  • Fattal, Alex. Guerrilla Marketing: Counterinsurgency and Capitalism in Colombia, 2018. 
  • Fattal, Alex. Shooting Cameras for Peace / Disparando Cámaras para la Paz, 2021.
  • Feiling, Tom. Short Walks from Bogotá: Journeys in the New Colombia, 2013. 
  • Feiling, Tom. The Island that Disappeared, 2017. 
  • Ferry, Stephen and Ferry, Elizabeth. LA BATEA, 2019.
  • Ferry, Stephen. Violentology: A Manual of the Colombian Conflict, 2012. 
  • Franco, Jorge. Rosario Tijeras, 1998. 
  • Galeano, Eduardo. Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, 1971.
  • Gamboa, Santiago. Return to the Dark Valley, 2017 
  • García Márquez, Gabriel.  One hundred years of solitude, 1967.
  • García Márquez, Gabriel. News of a Kidnapping, 2008 
  • García Márquez. The Scandal of the Century: And Other Writings, 2019.
  • García Robayo, Margarita. The Armies. New Directions 2009
  • Gonsalves, Marc. Howes, Tom. Stansell, Keith. Out of Captivity: Surviving 1,967 Days in the Colombian Jungle, 2009. 
  • Gonzalez, Tomas. The Storm, 2018. 
  • González Toledo, Felipe. Crónicas bogotanas, 2008
  • Guillermoprieto, Alma. Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America, 2002. 
  • Gutierrez Sanin, Francisco. Clientelistic Warfare: Paramilitaries and the State in Colombia (1982–2007), 2019. 
  • Hart Dyke, Tom and Winder, Paul. The cloud garden, 2004. 
  • Henderson, James. Cuando Colombia se desangró: una historia de la Violencia en metrópoli y provincia, 1942. 
  • Hincapié, Juan Fernando. Mother Tongue: A Bogotan Story, 2018. 
  • Idler, Annette. Borderland Battles. Violence, Crime, and Governance at the Edges of Colombia’s War, 2019.
  • Isaacs, Jorge. María, 1867. 
  • Jacobs, Michael. The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Colombia, 2013. 
  • Kaplan, Oliver. Resisting War, How Communities Protect themselves, 2017. 
  • Karl, Robert. A. Forgotten Peace. Reform, Violence, and the Making of Contemporary Colombia, 2017. 
  • Kellaway, Victoria and Lievano, Sergio. Colombia a Comedy of Errors, 2014. 
  • Kevin, Brian. The Footloose American: Following the Hunter S. Thompson Trail Across South America, 2014. 
  • Kirk, Robin. More Terrible Than Death: Drugs, Violence, and America’s War in Colombia, 2004. 
  • Linton, Malcolm. Metamorphosis, 2019. 
  • Litwicki, Mark. Bogotano por Accidente, 2019. 
  • López González, Alejandra.  El vuelo del flamenco, 2017.
  • López-Pedreros, A. Ricardo. Makers of Democracy: A Transnational History of the Middle Classes in Colombia, 2019. 
  • Martínez, Enrique. Quinta Sión: Los judíos y la conformación del espacio urbano de Bogotá, 2018. 
  • McColl, Richard. Bogotá through the 5 Senses, 2017.
  • McFarland Sanchez-Moreno. There are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia, 2018. 
  • McMullen, Miles. Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia, 2013. 
  • Molano, Alfredo. The Dispossessed: Chronicles of the Desterrados of Colombia, 2005. 
  • Muse, Toby. Kilo: Life and Death Inside the Secret World of the Cocaine Cartels, 2020.
  • Mutis, Alvaro. La Última Escala del Tramp Steamer, 2002. 
  • Nicholl, Charles. The Fruit Palace, 1998. 
  • Ospina, William. Pa que se acabe la vaina, 2013. 
  • Ospina, William. Ursua, 2010. 
  • Otis, John. Law of the Jungle: The Hunt for Colombian Guerrillas, American Hostages, and Buried Treasure, 2011. 
  • Pachico, Julianne. The Anthill, 2020.
  • Pachico, Julianne, The Lucky Ones, 2017.
  • Palacios, Marco. Between Legitimacy and Violence: A History of Colombia, 1875–2002, 2006. 
  • Paternostro, Silvana. My Colombian War: A Journey Through the Country I Left Behind, 2007. 
  • Pécaut, Daniel. En busca de la nación colombiana, 2017.
  • Quintana, Pilar. The Bitch, 2020
  • Rempel, William. C. At the Devil’s Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel, 2011. 
  • Rendell, Matthew. Colombia Es Pasion! The Generation of Racing Cyclists Who Changed Their Nation and the Tour de France, 2020. 
  • Rendell, Matthew. Kings of the Mountains: How Colombia’s Cycling Heroes Changed Their Nation’s History, 2003.
  • Restrepo, Laura. Delirium, 2008. 
  • Reyes, Emma. The Book of Emma Reyes: A Memoir in Correspondence, 2012. 
  • Rivera, José Eustacio. The Vortex (La vorágine), 1924
  • Rojas Contreras, Ingrid. Fruit of the Drunken Tree, 2018. 
  • Rosero Diago, Evelio. The Armies, 2009. 
  • Salazar, Alonso. No nacimos pa’ semilla, 1990. 
  • Sánchez Baute, Alonso. Líbranos del bien, 2011.
  • Serrano, Enrique. Colombia: Historia de un olvido: Tras siglos de un pueblo que surgió sin tirar una piedra, 2018. 
  • Serrano, Enrique. ¿Por qué Fracasa Colombia? 2016. 
  • Steele, Abbey. Democracy and Displacement in Colombia’s Civil War, 2017. 
  • Vallejo, Fernando. La virgen de los sicarios, 2017. 
  • Various Authors. Voices of Bogotá: A Short Story Collection – Various Authors, 2018.
  • Vásquez, Juan Gabriel. The Sound of Things Falling. 2014
  • Villalon, Carlos. Coca. The Lost War on Drugs. 2018. 
  • Young, Rusty. Colombiano, 2019. 
  • Zanetti, Luca. Colombia: On the Brink of Paradise, 2018. 
  • Zapata Olivella, Manuel. Changó, el gran putas, 1983. 
  • Zuleta, Estanislao. Colombia: violencia, democracia y derechos humanos, 1991. 

How many from this required reading list have you read? I am seeking both an editor and a publisher for my own non fiction work on Colombia, any pointers, leads and help is most welcome.

Thank you to everyone who suggested a book for inclusion on this list.

Tune in to the weekly Colombia Calling podcast to hear interviews with authors and Colombia-related conversations.

About Richard

Anglo-Canadian resident in Colombia. Journalist, Writer, Hotelier, Expedition Guide
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