I asked that question of Michael Orthofer, and his answer was this:
Underrated, I would absolutely think the regional language and literature of India. I think surprisingly, even though, perhaps, English is the main literary language of India and a great deal is locally translated, even there much of the vernacular literature still isn’t available in English.
What one can see of it and also in part hear about it — we’re missing an awful lot. There is a literary culture there, especially, for example, in Bengali, but we’ve had that since Tagore. One of the remarkable things is Tagore won his Nobel prize over a hundred years ago, and there are still novels by him which haven’t been translated into English. He is really a very good novelist.
It’s truly worthwhile, and this goes for many regions. The southern region of Kerala where they write in Malayalam — there’s remarkable literary production there, and we just see so little of it.
My inclination was to suggest Chile. Here’s why this country of below 18 million people is nonetheless a fierce literary contender:
1. Pablo Neruda was one of the two or three best poets of the latter part of the twentieth century. His Canto general is not his best poetic work but as a general statement of the history and underlying unity of the New World it is unparalleled. Gabriela Mistral is noteworthy too.
2. José Donoso’s The Obscene Bird of the Night is one of the very best Latin novels, yet it is hardly read these days, I am not sure why. I think it is clearly better than say One Hundred Years of Solitude.
3. Roberto Bolaño is probably the most important Latin author post-García Márquez, and he is from Chile, though he wrote much more about Mexico.
4. Antonio Skármeta isn’t even a top figure in this lineage yet he is still quite good, the same holds for Ariel Dorfman (born in Argentina, moved to Chile shortly afterwards), Alejandro Zambra, and yes Isabel Allende, who is the Chilean author most in the public eye in the United States. She is usually too sentimental for my taste but some of it I enjoy nonetheless.
And why is Chile underrated? Well, when you are there it feels fairly provincial — just ask a Porteño. Bolaño didn’t stick around and more generally exile from Pinochet prevented the creation of any well-defined group or movement. The Pinochet years also gave Chile a…shall we say…non-artistic reputation, and finally both Neruda and Doñoso don’t translate so well out of the Spanish.
Do you have an alternative choice?