Book to Film Adaptations to Watch During Hispanic Heritage Month

Posted by Diana R. Wallach

Mother nature has not been kind to the Latino community in recent weeks. An earthquake devastated Mexico, two major hurricanes flooded Texas and Florida, and a third deadly hurricane has left Puerto Rico destroyed and without power. And it’s Hispanic Heritage Month. So if you’ve already given to the relief efforts and you want to remind yourself of the rich Hispanic culture you are supporting, consider watching a few films based on novels by Hispanic writers. (Odd coincidence—it seems the ‘80s were a good decade for Latin novels.)


Like Water for Chocolate

Written by Laura Esquivel in 1989, this magical realism novel reads like a Mexican Romeo and Juliet. Tita is forbidden to marry her lover, Pedro, because she must instead care for her aging mother her entire life—a raw deal. The film based on it became the highest grossing Spanish-language film ever when it debuted in 1992.


Love in the Time of Cholera

A 1985 novel by Columbian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the classic you might have read in school. Or maybe you saw it plugged in the film Serendipity, when John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale struggle to find each other using a phone number in a first edition. There’s a reason for the iconic reference. The novel follows two lovers, Fermina and Florentino, who despite being in love, lead separate lives until they finally have a chance to be together in old age. The 2007 movie based on it stars Javier Bardem (reason enough to see it).


The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love

Written by Oscar Hijuelos in 1989, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel follows two Cuban brothers who move to New York City in the ‘50s and form a successful band, the Mambo Kings. The classic novel has been made into a musical and a movie. Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante star in the 1992 film, but only because the film’s creator Arne Glimcher fought the studio to get two Hispanic actors in the lead roles. Good on you, Glimcher.


The House of Spirits

This debut novel by Isabel Allende, was first published in 1982 in Argentina, after she received rejection letters from publishers all throughout Latin America. The book, an instant best seller that has been translated in 37 languages, is based on a letter she began writing her 100-year-old grandfather on his deathbed. The 1994 film adaptation of this Chilean story is most known for its talented yet oddly white cast (Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, and Winona Ryder). You really need to see it for yourself.


In the Time of Butterflies

Written by Julia Alvarez in 1994, the novel follows a group of rebel sisters in the Dominican Republic who protest the reign of Dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1960. In a time of pink hats and marches on Washington, this is a book worth reading by anyone who wants to #Resist. The novel was adapted for screen in 2001 and stars Salma Hayek and Edward James Olmos with Marc Anthony playing a small role.


[Pictured edition by Ocean Press]

The Motorcycle Diaries

Hey, it’s that guy from the T-shirt! This memoir was written by 23-year-old Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1952 after he traveled across Latin America, with a fellow upper class friend, Alberto Granado. By the end of their coming of age journey, Guevara vows to fight for the continent’s poor and mistreated. The film adaptation of this med-student turned Marxist guerilla commander (hence, the T-shirt) was made in 2004 and stars Gael Garcia Bernal. It’s an international tour-de-force that leaves you wondering, “No, seriously, how did this rich kid become a famous revolutionary?”