Monday, March 13, 2006

Guide to the Latin American Boom by Alexander Coleman

"Boom" is a term that should have died long ago, because it is such an ugly word. But the word has kept bouncing around in critical journals, mostly because of the jealous detractors who have kept it going. But there are a few things about the Boom that can be said with some accuracy and equanimity. The authors involved are resolutely engaged in a transfiguration of Latin American reality, from localism to a kind of heightened, imaginative view of what is real—a universality gained by the most intense and luminous kind of locality. That is what Garcia Marquez, Rulfo, Donoso, and Fuentes have done, among others. These are the eternal lessons of authors as disparate as Jane Austen, Faulkner, and Thomas Mann. The boom novel is never reportage, it is never blatant political protest, it is never "responsible," in the suffocating sense. And too, the Boom announced a cultural hegemony and unity out of disparity that would have been unthinkable some twenty or thirty years ago. Some elements that aided in this newly forged continental consciousness are such disparate facts and events as the cultural impulse given to Latin America by the Cuban Revolution, and in particular the Review of the House of the Americas, the most distinguished cultural organ of the Castro revolution; the existence of the distinguished Ford Foundation-financed literary review Mundo Nuevo, which, although it only lasted some two years under the formidable editorship of Emir Rodriguez Monegal, managed to introduce most of the authors of the new wave, those of whom we are now speaking. And of course it is significant that Borges enjoyed a retainer from The New Yorker, and that the same magazine, under the aegis of William Shawn and Alastair Reid, has begun a comprehensive search for new texts from Latin America, to be translated expressly for the magazine. And no one is surprised when a Cortazar short story is transformed into a film by Antonioni (Blow-up), or short stories by Borges undergo brilliant radical surgery by such filmmakers as Bertolucci (The Spider's Stratagem) or Nichohs Roeg (Performance). These are details, of course, but these details are indicative of a change of atmosphere, and that is everything. Nothing like this would have occurred in the forties or the early fifties. Latin American literature has gained an enormous readership just in the past twenty years.

The Boom in Spanish American Literature: A Personal History is a breezy exercise in literary parricide—the old boys are ejected from the pantheon, the local gods are outraged, the whippersnappers take over, a whole new profile for Latin American culture gradually takes form. Jose Donoso is not only a witness to it, he is a fundamental part of this literary process. His memoir should not be missed by anyone who cares about literature. It is a unique and discerning document, done with equal amounts of black bile and good humor. Thankfully, he has been eloquently served by his nimble translator, Gregory Kolovakos. By the way, for those interested in a lucid overview of the whole movement, with an abundance of useful factual material, I recommend Emir Rodriguez Monegal's El Boom de la Novela Latinoamericana (Caracus: Editorial Tiempo Nuevo, 1972).

The author adds also a short list of books including:

Ficciones, Personal Anthology and El Aleph and Other Stories by Jorge Luis Borges, Three Trapped Tigers by Gillermo Cabrera Infante, Explosion in a Cathedral, The Lost Steps and Reasons of State by Alejo Carpentier, The Winners, Hopscotch and Blow-Up and Other Stories by Julio Cortazar, Coronation, This Sunday and The Obscene Bird of the Night by José Donoso, Where the Air is Clear, The Death of Artemio Cruz, Aura, Change of Skin and Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes, No One Writes to the Colonel, One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez, The Third Bank of the River and The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by João Guimarães Rosa, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and The Buenos Aires Affair by Manuel Puig, Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, From Cuba With a Song and Cobra by Severo Sarduy, The Green House and Conversation in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa.

You can find the article here

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