Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo VillalobosRead about the other books on the list.
In Villalobos's small but perfectly formed 2011 debut novel, reality and surreality overlap in a darkly comic tale that offers a fresh take on Mexico's nasty narco-wars.
Tochtli ("rabbit" in Nahuatl, an indigenous language), the precocious, seven-year-old narrator, tells us about his life as the son of a drug kingpin called Yolcaut ("rattlesnake" in Nahuatl). They live in an isolated and well-guarded palace ("the thing is we have a lot of money. A huge amount"), where the boy's every whim is indulged but he is lonely. He knows only "13 or 14 people … [But] if I counted dead people, I'd know more".
He has a passion for hats, samurai, guillotines – and Liberian pygmy hippopotamuses. Tochtli reads the dictionary every night, and among the words he likes to use are "pathetic", "devastating", "disastrous" and "sordid".
His father sees him as part of the gang and doesn't shield him from violence. As a result, the child is chillingly knowledgeable about bullets, knives and the disposal of corpses. "I think at the moment my life is a little bit sordid. Or pathetic," says Tochtli.
Although easily devoured in one sitting, this clever little book is to be contemplated at length afterwards.