Three Horror Stories From the New Latin American Gothic

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When I was a teenager, reading Edgar Allan Poe’s stories made me decide to dedicate my life to literature. Readings like “Berenice” profoundly impacted me, making me realize that what frightened me most was not the story but the horror with which the author described its monstrosity.

Poe taught me about fear when looking through the looking glass, but it took me a long time to find Latin American references in the literary genre of horror.

The reason behind this absence is perhaps, as Mariana Enriquez says in this LitHub article, that there is no Latin American tradition of horror literature. Even when we have renowned writers in the genre, such as Horacio Quiroga, who was also a fan of Poe, one author does not make a tradition.

Although the question remains open, what I can say today is that there is currently a generation of writers who build on the work of Quiroga and Poe in Spanish and through images and situations that speak directly to the heart.

Mariana Enriquez (Argentina), Monica Ojeda, and Maria Fernanda Ampuero (Ecuador) are three Latinas who represent what horror literature means in our own terms, in what is beginning to be called “El Gótico Latinoamericano,” the Latin American Gothic.

Latino Gothic Literature Mónica Ojeda BELatina Latinx
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Mónica Ojeda – ”Las voladoras” (The Flying Ones) 

“Las voladoras” is a book with eight short stories with Andean mythology as its marrow. Many of us grew up surrounded by legends such as La Llorona that, while scary, were considered outdated.

But Mónica Ojeda is reinterpreting those myths, how they relate to our landscapes and our spirituality, that mixes Indigenous legends and Christian values. Her tales are disturbing for what they narrate (winged women flying from the rooftops, a teenager obsessed with blood, a girl who can’t depart from her father’s teeth), but also because they are strangely beautiful and transmit a sense of sacredness.

That feeling of being on the face of something holy makes her book even more unsettling. It is no coincidence that there are so many horror movies about nuns and sects. The idea of being in contact with something sacred is attractive, but also makes you feel fragile and makes you wonder if, instead of getting close to something greater than yourself and good, you might be in contact with something that might haunt you down. 

In Ojeda’s book, that tension is constant, but since the stories are told from the perspective of those unsettling characters, we tend to identify ourselves with them. 

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María Fernanda Ampuero – “Sacrificios humanos” (Human Sacrifices)

“Sacrificios Humanos” is the most realistic of these three books. Besides being a fiction writer, Ampuero is also a journalist that has worked thoroughly on migration topics. As a result, her stories are as terrifying as authentic. Here you won’t find witches or rituals with the Darkness, but the darker sides of humankind: gender violence, the conflicts of women becoming vulnerable, and the terror of feeling there is one path ahead, and it is that of becoming a victim of violence. 

Ampuero’s stories, as real-life stories often do, start with a tone that makes you feel that what is going on is entirely normal, natural, but they turn into nightmares of which the female characters can’t wake up. 

One of the best achievements and one of the saddest things about this book is the portrayal of how intersectionality makes women vulnerable to violence and to become human sacrifices. Conditions such as being an immigrant desperate for a job, an immigrant who falls in love with a man who becomes abusive, a woman who knows her daughters are being abused by their father.

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Mariana Enríquez – “Nuestra parte de noche” (Our Share of Night)

“Nuestra parte de noche” tells the story of a man desperately trying to save his son from his destiny. 

During the years of the Argentinian dictatorship, Juan was a member of a sect called the Order. The Order constantly tried to contact the Darkness with other spirits, such as San La Muerte (a real cult in Argentina). 

Juan is a medium of outstanding abilities, but his powers have the price of a cruel and rapid physical decay. Juan knows his body won’t hold for much longer. He knows that when his body dies, the Order will look for a vessel to continue using his powers, and his son Gaspar is the best vessel there is.

All the uncertainty and terror of Juan and Gaspar’s circumstances is mixed with the other terror of the deaths and forced disappearances caused by the dictatorship, which only makes the fear more intense. 

With this novel, Marian Enríquez won the Heralde Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes in Spanish. “Nuestra parte de noche” will be published next year by Granta.