You Saw the Movie, Now Read the Book: 5 Latino movies based on books you need to read

They say that a picture paints a thousand words. But what to do once you have seen the picture?

Read the thousand words, of course.

Here are five great books that you probably didn’t know provided the basis for equally great movies.

1. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Set in a small village in New Mexico during World War II, the story centers around, Antonio, a young boy, and Ultima, a curandera healer who uses herbs and magic to cure illness. She is accused of being a witch and the village becomes a battle field.

The book has been both lauded and banned in various places, but in 2008 it was selected as one of 12 classic American novels selected for The Big Read, a community-reading program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. The 2013 movie starring Luke Ganalon, Miriam Colon, and Benito Martinez was praised for its sweeping cinematography and authenticity.

More about the book can be found on its page.

Haven’t seen the movie? Learn more from its movie page here.

2. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

Forget Romeo and Juliet. It is THE book about the ultimate love story. In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall in love but she marries for money, not love. To compensate, he has 622 affairs over the next 50 years. And then her husband dies . . .

Sometimes I think this is such a well known book, not because of the 2007 movie adapted from the book starring Javier Bardem and Benjamin Bratt, but because of the 2001 movie Serendipity: Kate Beckinsale writes her phone number in a copy of the book but leaves it in a second-hand store instead of giving it to John Cusack. He spends the rest of the movie looking for that particular copy, only to have his fiancée give it to him the night before their wedding.

More about Love in the Time of Cholera can be found on its page.

Haven’t seen the movie? Learn more from its movie page here.

3. Man on Fire by A.J. Quinnell

In this 1980 thriller, an American soldier of fortune named Creasy takes a job guarding the young daughter of a wealthy family in Italy at the height of mafia violence. He’s seen too much, been to too many bad places and his drinking is a problem. But the daughter is in many ways as vulnerable and lonely as he is. And when the inevitable kidnapping takes place, Creasy will take his own revenge.

This novel is included in this list because the 2004 Man on Fire movie moved the action to Mexico City, pitting Creasy (Denzel Washington) against the drug cartels. It was a marvelous update of the story. Also, part of it was filmed about 2 blocks from my house when we lived in Mexico City so I can attest as to the authenticity of the location (took the dog for a walk and literally stumbled on the movie trailers!). Marc Anthony gives a great performance as the sobbing father of the little girl. I’d love to know who else read the book and also liked the movie adaptation.

More about Man on Fire can be found on its page.

Haven’t seen the movie? Learn more from its movie page here.

4. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera

Art historian Hayden Herrera wrote what is considered the definitive biography of the iconic (and famously tortured) Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The book provided a substantial amount of the background for the gorgeous 2002 movie Frida starring Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo and Alfred Molina as her husband, the equally iconic muralist Diego Rivera. The colors alone make this movie worth seeing, not to mention the opening sequence of Frida on a bed being pulled by a cart. Amazing imagery that captured the woman perfectly.

In addition to being a fearless portrayal of Kahlo’s physical infirmities, emotional neediness, links to Russian socialism and revolutionaries, and (well, in my view at least) strange marriage to Rivera, the book is a commentary on Kahlo’s sometimes controversial art. Pictures included.

More about Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo can be found on its page.

Haven’t seen the movie? Learn more from its movie page here.

5. The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols

In the tiny town of Milagro, New Mexico, bean farmer Joe Mondragon diverts water to his beanfield after big city developers attempt to take water rights for a new development. Soon his beans spark “war” between the locals and the interlopers. Joe Mondragon is an “everyman” hero and the people and places in this book are very memorable.

Actor/director Robert Redford took the book’s rich characters and true-to-location spirit and created a funny yet stunning 1988 movie starring Rubén Blades and Sonia Braga that, like the book, leaves you rooting for the underdog. The movie was Redford’s directorial debut and he nailed it, staying close to the book’s tone and storyline. Of course any movie starring the gorgeous Sonia Braga is terrific. (BTW, did you see her in Moon Over Parador with Raul Julia and Richard Dreyfus?!)

More about The Milagro Beanfield War can be found on its page.

Haven’t seen the movie? Learn more from its movie page here.

Which movies have you seen? Which books have you read? Did the movie do the book justice? Have a few others to suggest? Let us know in the comments!


Carmen Amato writes thrillers and mysteries as well as a blog about encounters, choices, and travel at CLIFF DIVER, the first book in her Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “consistently exciting” and the next book in that series, HAT DANCE, will be released later this summer.

In HAT DANCE, Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz will risk a dance with the devil in a desperate attempt to track down an arsonist and find a missing girl. But as Acapulco burns, the music comes with a price that no honest cop should have to pay.

Check out all Carmen’s books at and connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects. Her Pinterest boards illustrate her books and can be found at

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