editor's choice

Juan Villoro’s The Wild Book, a glorious read


‘There are people who think they understand a book just because they know how to read. I already told you that books are like mirrors: every person finds in them what they have in their own head. The problem is that you only discover what you have inside you when you read the right book. Books are indiscreet and risky mirrors: they make your most original ideas take flight, inspiring thoughts you never knew you had. When you don’t read, those thoughts remain prisoners in your head. They’re no use at all.'”


We would love to live in Uncle Tito’s home in Juan Villoro’s The Wild Book. An eccentric relative, with the most fabulous library of extraordinary books, Uncle Tito has a penchant for drinking Lapsang (our favourite tea) and making literary-infused recipes … nirvana. For Villoro’s teen protagonist, Juan, it’s a different proposition, however. At least, initially.

After his parents separate, Juan is sent by his mother to stay with her cousin, Tito, in his dusty, maze of a house, filled to bursting with books. This is an alien environment for Juan – and his uncle seems somewhat strange. But then there’s pretty Catalina of the honey-coloured eyes, who works at the local pharmacist, and the house which starts to unfurl, revealing its secrets. When the books come alive, shockingly shifting shape, Uncle Tito reveals to Juan that he is, in fact, a Lector Princeps, a prince of books, with a very special connection to them. Now, Juan’s on a very important mission to find the elusive The Wild Book and save it from extinction by evil forces, helped by Catalina and his little sister, Carmen.

The Wild Book celebrates the power of words and the fact that we all have a very personal response to, and relationship with, books – some speaking to us, others not. Through words and the quest for the elusive tome, Juan and his uncle learn to navigate their changing worlds and relationships, gaining wisdom from the books and from each other.

An acclaimed Latin American author, Juan Villoro has been referred to as the Mexican John Updike. His books have been published increasingly in English in recent years. Originally published in Spanish as El libro salvaje, The Wild Book is beautiful: the cover striking and the small black-and-white illustrations enhancing the text, which is translated fluidly by Lawrence Schimel.

Although categorised for 10- to 14-year olds (and we do loathe categories), The Wild Book is a treat for any book lover or wordsmith, whatever one’s age. We defy you not to enjoy it. It’s gorgeous.


The Wild Book | Juan Villoro | Translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel | HopeRoad Publishing | paperback original | £8.99 | 21 September 2019 | Ebook also available

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Acknowledgements: Book text quote p. 90 © 2008 Juan Villoro; English translation © Lawrence Schimel 2017. Many thanks to Anne Cater, as always, and to the publisher for sending a review copy of this beautiful book. Photo © The Literary Shed 2019. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.


Also of interest:By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’;‘Yvonne Battle-Fenton’s Rememembered‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;Permission by Saskia Vogel‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).


This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.





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