Thursday, February 09, 2006

The McOndo Movement

Alberto Fuguet's article "I am not a magic realist!"

Unlike the ethereal world of García Márquez's imaginary Macondo, my own world is something much closer to what I call "McOndo" -- a world of McDonald's, Macintoshes and condos. In a continent that was once ultra-politicized, young, apolitical writers like myself are now writing without an overt agenda, about their own experiences. Living in cities all over South America, hooked on cable TV (CNN en español), addicted to movies and connected to the Net, we are far away from the jalapeño-scented, siesta-happy atmosphere that permeates too much of the South American literary landscape. Julian Barnes echoes this feeling in his novel "Flaubert's Parrot," where his scholarly narrator declares that the entire genre of magical realism should be banished: "A quota system is to be introduced on fiction set in South America," he says. The example he gives speaks for itself. "Ah, the fredonna tree whose roots grow at the tip of its branches, and whose fibers assist the hunchback to impregnate by telepathy the haughty wife of the hacienda owner ..." Writers today who mold themselves after the Latin American "boom" writers of the 1960s (García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, to name a few) have transformed fiction writing into the fairy-tale business, cranking out shamelessly folkloric novels that cater to the imaginations of politically correct readers -- readers who, at present, aren't even aware of Latino cultural realism. David Gallagher, writing from Chile for the London Times Literary Supplement, considers this obscurity an asset: "These writers don't have an international reputation to protect. Nor do they feel the necessity of submerging themselves in the waters of the politically correct. Since they don't have the advantage of living abroad, they wouldn't even know how to write a PC novel ... they aren't writing for an international audience, and therefore, have no need to maintain the status quo of the stereotypical Latin America that is packaged up for export." I feel the great literary theme of Latin American identity (who are we?) must now take a back seat to the theme of personal identity (who am I?). The McOndo writers -- such as Rodrigo Fresán and Martin Rejtman of Argentina, Jaime Bayly of Peru, Sergio Gómez of Chile, Edmundo Paz Soldán of Bolivia and Naief Yeyha of Mexico, to name a few -- base their stories on individual lives, instead of collective epics. This new genre may be one of the byproducts of a free-market economy and the privatization craze that has swept South America. I don't deny that there exists a colorful, exotic aspect to Latin America, but in my opinion, life on this continent is far too complex to be so simply categorized. It is an injustice to reduce the essence of Latin America to men in ponchos and sombreros, gun-toting drug lords and sensual salsa-swinging señoritas. As a character from my second book said: "I want to write a saga, but without falling into the trap of magical realism. Pure virtual realism, pure McOndo literature. Kind of like 'The House of the Spirits,' only without the spirits."

You can find the article here

A 2004 article about the McOndo authors

Call it the curse of Macondo. Since the emergence in the late 1960s of writers such as the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, Mexican Carlos Fuentes, and Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, Latino literature - at least that which you can find on the shelf at your local Barnes & Noble - has been dominated by the magical realism embodied by the mythical village at the heart of García Márquez's classic One Hundred Years of Solitude. Macondo, where it rains butterflies, grandmothers fly, and the air smells like ripe mangoes, remains a tropical paradise that readers clamor to. It is our personification of the exotic world south of the border.

The only problem is, the average middle class kid growing up in Santiago or Bogotá has about as much chance of witnessing a storm of yellow flowers as you or I, and is more likely to identify with a character who flies in airplanes than one who levitates of his own volition. "My own world," wrote Fuguet in the 1997 piece, "is something much closer to what I call 'McOndo' - a world of McDonald's, Macintoshes, and condos." And so a movement was born.

The writers who form McOndo - most notably Fuguet, Edmundo Paz Soldán of Bolivia, and Jaime Bayly of Peru, and Jorge Franco of Colombia - are realists of the cultural rather than the magical. Characters speak Spanglish, eat fast-food, surf the Web, and travel easily between Latin America and the United States.

If there is a common thread in the most recent crop of works to be published in translation by McOndo writers, it is the search for a personal identity in a postmodern, globalized world in which boundaries - between countries, histories, and customs - have been thoroughly blurred.

You can find the article here

Find Alberto Fuguet's Books at

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