Discover the captivating allure of Central America’s smallest country. These books about El Salvador delve into the country’s history and offer the essential insights travelers need to understand its present. This article contains links to Amazon, from which, as an Amazon Associate, this website will earn a small commission if you make any purchases. Visit our Affiliate Disclosure Page for more info.
El Salvador is probably the most talked about country in Central America right now. In recent years, since its mercurial president Nayib Bukele came into power, the region’s smallest country has become a focus point. For crypto bros, surfers, digital nomads, and more, El Salvador is suddenly back in the news and – dare we say it – hip.
It’s no accident this has happened. Bukele is, at heart, a marketing guy and he knows how to sell his country. He’s insanely popular in El Salvador and around the region, where many Central American voters want their leaders to be more like him and politicians strive to copy his policies, particularly regarding crime.
— Nayib Bukele (@nayibbukele) July 20, 2023
But it’s not all bluster and shine
Under Bukele, El Salvador’s homicide rate has plummeted. Costa Rica now has a higher homicide rate than El Salvador, which is amazing. Tourism is up, potential expats see El Salvador as a viable home, and even Bukele’s much maligned economic policy appears to be turning a corner at last as its sovereign bonds continue to rally in late July 2023. Over 90 percent of Salvadorans consistently support Bukele and have done so since he came into power.
Sure, there are valid criticisms and concerns about authoritarianism and the slide into dictatorship. Extremely valid concerns. But most Salvadorans will tell you to mind your damn business if you bring up these negatives. Especially if you don’t live there and don’t know what its like to live in a country ruled by gangs. Bukele changed that and people are grateful, despite the negatives.
What we’re trying to say, I guess, is that Bukele has put El Salvador back on the map. And as his influence continues to catch the world’s attention, it’s only natural that curiosity about El Salvador and its complex history has grown. For those eager to delve deeper into the story of this Central American nation, exploring the best books about El Salvador is an excellent starting point. These books offer a broader perspective, shedding light on the country’s rich heritage and social struggles that led to where El Salvador stands today.
The below list is the latest edition to our country-by-country guide to the best books about the region. You’ll find articles on this site about our favorite books about Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, and Honduras. There’s also a general Central America book guide. The goal is to help our readers gain deeper insight about the region.
Our favorite books about El Salvador:
“State of War: MS-13 and El Salvador’s World of Violence” by William Wheeler
This book examines the roots of MS-13, tracing it back to the 1980s when Salvadorans fled to the U.S. during the civil war. Returning deportees fueled violence in El Salvador, creating one of the world’s most dangerous countries.
“The Massacre at El Mozote” by Mark Danner
This investigative work tells the tragic story of the El Mozote massacre during the civil war. It chronicles the events of December 1981 when the Salvadoran military killed hundreds of civilians in a small village. Danner’s book reveals the brutality of the conflict and the impact on civilian populations.
“Senselessness” by Horacio Castellanos Moya
Though not directly about El Salvador, this novel by a prominent Salvadoran author explores the psychological and emotional aftermath of war. Set in an unnamed Central American country (resembling El Salvador), the book follows a writer tasked with editing a testimonial account of atrocities, delving into the impact of violence on society and individuals.
“Salvador” by Joan Didion
In this book, Joan Didion investigates the political and social turmoil of 1980s El Salvador. Through her firsthand experiences and journalistic research, Didion provides insights into the country’s civil war and the role of the United States in the conflict.
“One Day of Life” by Manlio Argueta
Salvadoran writer Manlio Argueta brings to life the struggles of rural peasants during the civil war in this novel. It depicts the hardships, resilience, and solidarity of the working class, offering a compelling portrayal of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
“Magic Dogs of the Volcanoes” by Manlio Argueta
Also by Manlio Argueta, this children’s book covers one of El Salvador’s most famous objects of folklore – the cadejo, or magic dog.
“El Salvador Could Be Like That: A Memoir of War and Journalism” by Joseph B. Frazier
Journalist Joseph B. Frazier provides a personal account of his experiences covering the Salvadoran civil war. He shares the challenges of reporting in a war zone and reflects on the broader context of the conflict and its impact on the Salvadoran people.
“Dance with Snakes” by Horacio Castellanos Moya
A novel set in San Salvador about an unemployed sociologist, who becomes fixated on a homeless man. Assuming the man’s identity, Sosa unleashes a terrifying reign of terror on the city. This darkly comedic and fast-paced tale blurs delivers a chilling high-speed romp through the streets of San Salvador.
“The She-Devil in the Mirror” by Horacio Castellanos Moya
The third book in our list by this author, this novel revolves around a young woman in San Salvador, accused of murdering her wealthy husband. As the narrative unfolds, it offers a darkly humorous and satirical commentary on the country’s elite and its society.
“In Search of Captain Zero” by Allan Weisebecker
We cover this book in both our general Central American list and our more specific Costa Rica list. But in our opinion, the lengthy chapter on the time Weisbecker spent in La Libertad, El Salvador, makes it worthy of this list too.
We hope you find something you like in these books about El Salvador
El Salvador has reemerged as a prominent focus in Central America in recent years. Despite its tragic past, many Salvadorans now see the country making strides towards a brighter future. Given that tragic past, it should be understandable why they see things that way. Understanding El Salvador’s history becomes essential for travelers seeking to appreciate the transformation in process. As always, we hope you enjoy these books about another deeply misunderstood Central American country.
James Dyde is the editor of centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.