12 Literature Classics in Spanish for Intermediate and Advanced Learners
Cervantes, Pío Baroja, Miguel Unamuno, Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda? Do you know what these names have in common? They are all authors of undeniable classics in Spanish literature—writers who had a great impact on readers and fellow authors.
Few people choose literary skills to boost their language skills and work on their fluency and literacy, which means not only are you rare for being here, but special! And you’re on the right track to boosting your fluency.
Literary classics in Spanish can help you drastically improve the effectiveness of your language learning, especially if you’re already at an intermediate or early advanced level.
Here are 12 classics in Spanish literature that should be part of your next book order!
Why Read Literature Classics in Spanish?
You well know that reading expands your vocabulary and takes your language fluency and literacy to the next level. Books are ideal for seeing complex grammar structures in action and they allow you more time to let the concepts sink in than would watching a movie in Spanish. Apart from that, reading is fun. But why read Spanish literature classics instead of grabbing the latest Stephen King novel translated into Spanish?
The fact is: reading books that have been translated into Spanish will not give you ALL the benefits.
Let me explain.
Classics in Spanish are classics because they transmit elements that are specific to a certain place at a certain time and are expressed in a unique way. They teach you about culture, about typical expressions. They teach you geography, history, and even politics of Spanish-speaking countries.
While reading any book in Spanish can improve your language skills, reading authentic classics in Spanish introduces you to the cultural context of Spanish-speaking countries.
Apart from that, classics in Spanish are perfect when you find your language skills plateauing and you feel it’s difficult to advance at the pace you were used to. You understand a great deal and you don’t struggle too hard to make yourself understood in basic ways, but you fail to express yourself authentically. That’s the moment to dive into literature and discover new worlds and expressions that were once unknown to you.
Literature Classics in Spanish
The following selection includes literature classics in Spanish from different countries. You’ll find examples from Spain but also from Latin America. All these books were all written in the 20th century—except the last one on the list, which was published in 2004 (and is more of a modern classic). To make sure the language is accessible to you (and not too antiquated), you won’t find classics like Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes o El Cantar de Mío Cid on this list.
1. Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges
English Title: “Fictions”
Date Published: 1944
This classic is my absolute favorite. I remember reading Borges for the first time at the age of 15 and coming back to him my whole life. He is like nothing else. The book is a collection of short stories that transport you into words that seem similar to ours but very soon you find yourself in complex, intellectual settings that challenge your perception of reality.
This is one of the classics in Spanish perfect even for intermediate learners as the language itself is very clear.
2. El Túnel, by Ernesto Sábato
English Title: “The Tunnel”
Date Published: 1948
El Túnel shakes you from the very first sentence with the ending of the book that appears at the beginning:
Bastará decir que soy Juan Pablo Castel, el pintor que mató a María Iribarne; supongo que el proceso está en el recuerdo de todos y que no se necesitan mayores explicaciones sobre mi persona.
“It will be enough to say I am Juan Pablo Castel, the painter who killed Maria Iribarne; I assume the people will remember what I did, and that they do not need any further explanation of my personal character.”
After this deliberate spoiler, you feel trapped by the narrator’s entangling report revealing the darkest side of a person who feels misunderstood by the world. By reading it, you get a rare opportunity to peer into an unfamiliar logic that is not yours.
3. Cien Años de Soledad, by Gabriel García Márquez
English Title: “One Hundred Years of Solitude”
Date Published: 1967
Cien Años de Soledad is another classic in Spanish whose first sentence sounds familiar to many readers:
Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo.
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
This first sentence opened the world to Magical Realism and Spanish literature was never the same again.
It’s a very long story, so get ready for many hours of reading but in exchange, you’ll get a better understanding of the fascinating undertones of Latin American culture.
4. Bestiario, by Julio Cortázar
English Title: “Bestiary: Selectet Stories”
Date Published: 1951
Julio Cortázar is the master of surprise. All the stories that seem quite ordinary at the beginning suddenly make you feel like a fictional character within the worlds you’re reading about. The last words of each story will leave you in astonishment and it’s likely that you’ll want to reread it to find the clues you missed the first time around.
5. Pedro Páramo, by Juan Rulfo
English Title: “Pedro Páramo”
Date Published: 1955
This mind-bending novel is set in early 20th-century Mexico where you travel with Juan Preciado to Comala. It may seem simple but you’ll be surprised to take note that nothing in this story is what it seems. Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine short-story writer featured as number 1 on this list, considered Pedro Páramo to be the greatest text ever written in any language.
An undeniable advantage for Spanish learners is the length of the novel. You can read it in one sitting and dedicate your time later to go deeper into your favorite parts.
6. Como Agua para Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
English Title: “Like Water for Chocolate”
Date Published: 1992
You might already have seen the movie with the same title—if not, then I recommend you start with the novel!
The book tells the story of Tita, the youngest daughter of the De La Garza Family. According to Mexican tradition, Tita can’t marry because she’s required to look after her mother until she dies. As the story progresses, Tita falls in love with Pedro and seduces him with magical food. Since a union with Tita is forbidden, he marries her sister to be closer to his love and that’s when the story gets really interesting!
7. La Casa de los Espíritus, by Isabel Allende
English Title: “The House of the Spirits”
Date Published: 1982
La Casa de Los Espíritus should be your first choice if you want to read a family saga but feel overwhelmed by the number of pages in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The book will leave you knowledgeable about the Pinochet era in early 20th century Chile. If you like romantic stories with a political background, this novel won’t disappoint.
8. La Ciudad y los Perros, by Mario Vargas Llosa
English Title: “The Time of the Hero”
Date Published: 1963
La Ciudad y Los Perros is a more challenging read than the previous ones on this list, but it is undeniably worth the challenge. This is one of the classics in Spanish mentioned on every “must-read” list. Mario Vargas Llosa is a master of drawing characters with a life-like depth and the whole story walks you through Lima and its suburbs.
The Military Academy that constitutes its principal setting is real—in fact, 100 copies of the book were burned there right after its publication. What offended them so much? You have to read it to find out!
9. La Muerte de Artemio Cruz, by Carlos Fuentes
English Title: “The Death of Artemio Cruz”
Date Published: 1962
This is a great read for history lovers. You’ll get insight into the Mexican Revolution on both a large and small scale told from the deathbed of the protagonist. Take your time, it’s not a page-turner. Savor the language and discover the irony scattered throughout it.
10. El Obsceno Pájaro de la Noche, by José Donoso
English Title: “The Obscene Bird of Night”
Date Published: 1970
I remember this book was an unexpected hit when I read it the first time. It’s not one of the most famous literature classics in Spanish but it’s certainly one of the most compelling. Nothing is sure or concrete in this novel. As the reader, you receive multiple versions of the same story as you simultaneously uncover who is narrating each mind-bending version.
The book is visionary, far from traditional ways of writing, and the horror and gothic energy you’ll encounter here will not soon fade from your mind.
11. Hasta no verte Jesús Mío, by Elena Poniatowska Puig
English Title: “Here’s to you, Jeusa!”
Date Published: 1969
This novel by Elena Poniatowska offers an insight into Mexican early 20th-century history from a woman’s point of view. The narrator is Josefina, a native from Oaxaca, whose life is not easy, to put it mildly. It’s an interesting reflection on women’s place and role in a surprising scenario.
12. Tu Rostro Mañana, by Javier Marías
English Title: “Your Face Tomorrow”
Date Published: 2004
This is the only literary classic in Spanish on this list that was written in the 21st century. Javier María has quickly gained the respect and admiration of readers and literary critics thanks to Tu Rostro Mañana, a three-volume, artistically-acclaimed novel.
The book is a rare combination of skillful language and an interesting plot, with spy stories tangling with romance. It’s a book that reflects on the author’s experience and years of writing. It’s a bit Proustian in its approach but in a more modern outfit.
Have you already chosen your favorite out of these 12 classics in Spanish? Which ones caught your attention? Or maybe you want to read them all?
If you need more inspiration read this article about the 10 Most Remarkable Latin American Authors of All Time.
After you’ve read your favorite classics and you’re ready to talk to a native speaker about what you’ve read, sign up for a free class with one of our professional Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala! Enjoy talking about literary classics in Spanish and practicing your conversational skills in fun, engaging, 1-on-1 classes.
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