Does the current crop of left-wing caudillos in Latin America, like Hugo Chávez, inspire the type of animosity their military counterparts once did? And will its members be turned into larger-than-life dictators in novels, as they were in Gabriel García Márquez's 1975 The Autumn of the Patriarch? Or have the literary intelligentsia finally given up the foolish practice of using fiction to pretend to force tyrants from their throne?Click to read the full article
Those aren't rhetorical questions. For centuries, literature in the former Spanish colonies on this side of the Atlantic has sought to define itself, in part, as resistance to autocratic rulers, as if what justifies writing is fighting oppression and totalitarianism. There is a plethora of novelas del dictador, narratives, mostly gargantuan in scope, in which a narcissist tyrant serves as protagonist and, at times, as narrator: El Caudillo (1921), by Jorge Borges, father of Jorge Luis Borges (the younger Borges was apolitical, or in any case conservative, so that link to the tradition was broken); Miguel Ángel Asturias's El señor presidente (1946); Alejo Carpentier's Reasons of State (1974); Mario Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat (2000).
The key to success has been to find a worthy foe, an avatar of evil—arrogant, dogmatic, overbearing, if possible misogynistic, maybe even a voodoo practitioner if you're writing about the Caribbean. God knows, there has been no scarcity of dictators. Pick your choice: Porfirio Díaz in Mexico, François "Papa Doc" and his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc," Duvalier in Haiti, Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda in Paraguay, Juan Domingo Perón in Argentina, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Juan Vicente Gómez in Venezuela, Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, José María Velasco Ibarra in Ecuador. ...
Thursday, June 10, 2010
The Novelists and the Dictators
Ilan Stavans on Latin American novels with dictators.
Posted at 2:50 PM