Excited by a trip to Bolivia, but not ready to visit just yet? To help fuel your wanderlust, we have compiled a list of books to help you immerse yourself in the country before you even leave home!

Click the genre to skip to it.

Non-Fiction

Marching Powder by Rusty Young, Thomas McFadden
In 2003, Australian law graduate Rusty Young shocked the world with his riveting tale of Bolivia’s strangest prison. Marching Powder begins with Young’s participation in one of the notorious illegal tours of Bolivia’s San Pedro prison offered by British drug smuggler and inmate Thomas McFadden. The tour, made possible by the jail’s rampant corruption, revealed a bizarre world to Young who ended up moving into the prison to share McFadden’s cell and document life inside San Pedro.

In 1925, the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle, in search of a fabled civilization. He never returned. Over the years countless perished trying to find evidence of his party and the place he called “The Lost City of Z”. In this masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, journalist David Grann interweaves the spellbinding stories of Fawcett’s quest for “Z” and his own journey into the deadly jungle, as he unravels the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century.

What begins as a dream adventure for four amicable, if hastily met, backpackers quickly becomes a struggle for survival as they unravel under the duress of the jungle. They are an odd mix to be sure: Marcus, the Swiss mystic; Karl, the shady Austrian geologist; Kevin, the well-intentioned American photographer; and Yossi, the Israeli adventurer. Jungle is the incredible true story of Yossi Ghinsberg’s triumph over the most adverse and frightening of circumstances.

In a salty, slashing style, Tristan Jones unfolds his extraordinary saga–a six year voyage during which he covered a distance equal to twice the circumference of the world. Even after dodging snipers on the Red Sea, capsizing off the Cape of Good Hope, starving in the Amazon, struggling for 3,000 miles against the mightiest sea current in the world, and hauling his boat over the rugged Andes three miles above sea level to find at last the legendary Island of the Sun, he would not give up.

Fiction

The Matter of Desire – By Edmundo Paz Soldan

The Matter of Desire is the story of Pedro, a Bolivian-American political scientist who teaches at an upstate New York university. Having become entangled in an erotically charged romance with Ashley, a beautiful red-headed graduate student, he returns to Bolivia to seek answers to his own life by investigating the mystery of his father’s past. Trapped between two cultures, Pedro ultimately finds himself in an existential dilemma of tragic dimensions.

Purity – By Jonathan Franzen
Young Pip Tyler doesn’t know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she’s saddled with $130,000 in student debt and that her relationship with her mother is hazardous. But she doesn’t have a clue who her father is or about her mother’s past. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads Pip to an internship in Bolivia with The Sunlight Project, an organization that traffics in all the secrets of the world – including, Pip hopes, the secret of her origins. Andreas – the brainchild of TSP – is drawn to Pip for reasons she doesn’t understand, and the intensity of her response to him upends her conventional ideas of right and wrong.
The twenty short stories collected in this book offer not only a comprehensive look at the variety and invention of Bolivian literature, but also provide more information about the heart and soul of Bolivia than a warehouse full of news reports. The most comprehensive collection of modern Bolivian literature yet published in English, The Fat Man From La Paz offers a kaleidoscopic view of the country’s last fifty years, from a sociological and cultural viewpoint.

Rocha’s Treasure of Potosi – By Fred Staff

When Francisco Rocha sets out to make his fortune in the 1650s, unimaginable hardship and adventure await him. Unprepared for what he will find in the wider world – including Potosi, the richest Spanish holding in the New World – Rocha will learn the terror of being under someone else’s control, powerless and facing death. This life-changing experience will inspire in him a passion for righting wrongs and issuing his own brand of justice. Based on a true story, Rocha’s Treasure of Potosi will take you on the inspiring epic adventure of a man who had the bravery, honor, and commitment to do the right thing, even at the risk of his life.

Travel Memoir

A classic coming-of-age story, the Motorcycle Diaries is a memoir that traces the early travels of Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, then a 23-year-old medical student, and his friend Alberto Granado, a 29-year-old biochemist across South America. The young Che Guevara’s lively and highly entertaining travel diary is now a popular movie and a New York Times bestseller.
Simon Bolivar once inspired a continent to rise from serfdom and throw off the shackles of Spanish rule. Viva South America! sets out to discover if the dream of Simon Bolivar – for independence, freedom and equality – lives on in modern South America. With the ghost of Simon Bolivar as guide, Oliver Balch hits the road in search of answers, taking the reader off the tourist trail and into the weird and wonderful worlds of South American culture and society.
A remarkable tale of hardship, deprivation and enduring love, Michael Jacob’s follows the footstep of his grandfather who left his fiancée to work on the railway through the Andes. Michael’s journey back through time takes him from a rain-swept Hull churchyard to Bolivia’s silver capital of Potosi. Climbing through ghostly, lunar-like scenery towards the snow-capped summits of the Andes, he follows the route of his grandfather’s railway to reveal an extraordinary love story.

History

In this book Galeano analyzes the history of Latin America as a whole, from the time period of the European settlement of the New World to contemporary Latin America, describing the effects of European and later United States economic exploitation and political dominance over the region. Those interested in great historical, economic, political, and social writing will find a singular analytical achievement, and an overwhelming narrative that makes history speak, unforgettably.
In a secluded valley high in the Andes Mountains, long before the time of the Incas and the Aztecs, the empire of the Aymara rose from the shores of Lake Titicaca and flourished for nearly a thousand years. In Valley of the Spirits, Alan Kolata takes us deep into the mystical world of the Aymara, where past and present come together and the spirits of ancient ancestors still speak to shamans in the voices of mountain springs. Kolata’s unique knowledge of the Aymara is based on 17 years of research at the site of the ancient empire.
In December 2005, Bolivia elected its first ever indigenous President, Evo Morales, with by far the highest ever vote received by any candidate under a fully democratic system. This book covers the whole of Bolivian history but concentrates on the last twenty years when neoliberal policies were introduced in the context of globalisation. The policies failed a majority of the people, causing increasing resistance over the last five years, and culminated in the election of Evo Morales who proposed to change the economic and political model.
Bolivar: American Liberator – By Marie Arana
Símon Bolívar —El Libertador—freed six countries from Spanish rule and is still the most revered figure in South America today. He traveled from Amazon jungles to the Andes mountains, engaged in endless battles and forged fragile coalitions of competing forces and races. He lived an epic life filled with heroism, tragedy (his only wife died young), and legend (he was saved from an assassination attempt by one of his mistresses). In Bolívar, Marie Arana has written a sweeping biography that is as bold and as passionate as its subject.

Cooking

My Mother’s Bolivian Kitchen – By by Jose Sanchez-H

More than a cookbook, My Mother’s Bolivian Kitchen is a memoir of a Bolivian childhood. In addition to a comprehensive collection of Bolivian recipes, Sánchez-H. takes the reader to his Aunt Nazarias sixty-ninth birthday party to feast on picante de pato con chuño (spicy duck with freeze-dried potatoes; to observe El Día de Todos Santos (All Saints Day) when bread is baked in honor of the deceased; and camping in the mountains where the memory of his mother’s food leads him home. These memories, among others, demonstrate the importance of food in Bolivian culture.

Empanadas offers a collection of the most delicious recipes and essential tips on creating the perfect mini pie for any occasion. With an introduction on the history of empanadas, a lesson on dough types and folding techniques, 60 succulent recipes, and mouthwatering color photographs throughout, Empanadas is a beautiful, practical, and definitive guide to making, serving, and enjoying everyone’s favorite hand-held pie.

Gran Cocina Latina – By Maricel E. Presilla

In one volume Gran Cocina Latina gives home cooks, armchair travelers, and curious chefs the first comprehensive collection of recipes from the Latin world. Maricel E. Presilla has spent more than thirty years visiting each country, gathering more than 500 recipes along the way. This one-of-a-kind cookbook is to be savoured as much for the writing as for its introduction to never-before seen recipes.

The South American Table – By Maria Kijac

15 years in the making, this award winning cookbook has 450 extraordinary recipes for everything from the tamales, cebiches, and empanadas that are popular across the continent to the specialities of individual regions, such as the barbecue of the south, the hearty stews and grain dishes of the interior, and the seafood preparations of the coast. This landmark cookbook is an accessible and authoritative guide to a fascinating world of food.

 

Note: The books I’ve listed above are in English. For those fluent in Spanish, be sure to visit Libreria Boliviana, where you can find an impressive selection of Bolivian works across a variety of subjects and genres.

Have a book you’d like to recommend? Share in the comments below: