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Volume 50 / Humanities


20th Century Prose Fiction: Central America

RENE PRIETO, Associate Professor of Spanish, Southern Methodist University

WHAT DOES IT IMPLY when a country or, as in the present instance, an entire region, begins to produce more literary criticism, more intellectual biographies, more reeditions of the classics, than new works of fiction? Might we see in this tendency to choose intellectual meditation over artistic effort a coming of age, a sign of cultural maturity indicating the emergence of both a reading public ready to consume books about books and an establishment willing to print them? Or could such a shift in emphasis from literature to criticism speak to the understanding of political forces which, as in El Salvador, have been worse than repressive in recent years? Whatever the reason, the shift in publishing priorities is undeniable in Central American prose. Even authors who have heretofore concentrated on writing fiction - the Costa Rican Rima de Vallbona, for example - have turned to literary exegesis (item bi 89007539) with results that are superlative because they emerge from the vantage point of her own creative imagination and vast knowledge of literature. Comparable knowledge and insight are conspicuous in another first-rate article, this one by Martin Lienhard. In "La Legitimación Indígena en Dos Novelas Centroamericanas" (item bi 89007530), this critic substantiates the inadequacies and virtues of Miguel Angel Asturias' and Rosario Castellanos' very special brand of indigenismo. In fact, indigenismo has been a major concern of specialists in this area in the last two years as a number of noteworthy publications - Luis Ramón Acevedo's "El Popul Vuh y la Novela Centroamericana Contemporánea: Comentarios a la Luz de un Estudio de Margaret McClear" (item bi 89007498), René Prieto's "Tall Tales Made to Order: the Making of Myth in Men of maize" (item bi 89007537), and a timely critical anthology entitled Miguel Angel Asturias (item bi 89007543) - can readily attest. Of particular interest is the fact that critics are beginning to pay special attention to the language and discursive levels of certain indigenista works - such as Hombres de maíz - that have remained enigmatic since their publication. Scrutiny of such esoteric works comes accompanied by some fascinating new findings about the Guatemalan Nobel Prize winner. A number of these come to light in what is undoubtedly the most engrossing and pleasurable book to appear in this area in recent years: Luis Cardoza y Aragón's El río: novelas de caballería (item bi 89007507), a wry biographical account that examines the lives of a good many intellectuals, artists and fops strutting on the stages of Europe and Latin America since the 1920s. On a very different note but no less fascinating is Margarita Carrera's erudite collection of essays, Obra ensayística (item bi 89007510), a two-volume edition in which this versatile member of the Academia Guatemalteca de la Lengua discusses a wealth of subjects that include Nietzsche and psychoanalysis and the role of women in society.

The fact that literary criticim has been the focus of interest in Central America in the last two years does not mean that fiction has not appeared in print, however. The reading public can look forward to yet another tour de force by Augusto Monterroso, La palabra mágica (item bi 89007493), where this ever-resourceful author combines fiction, criticism, and literary ruminations of a general order. In addition - and, happily for the English-speaking reader - an excellent translation by Elizabeth Miller and Helen Clement has just made accessible one of the most captivating books written by David Escobar Galindo, his famous Fábulas (item bi 89007488), where poignant criticism of human foibles is tempered with his characteristic sense of humor. Finally, mention must be made of Carmen Naranjo's witty collection of short stories, Nunca hubo alguna vez (item bi 89007494), as well as of a terse and moving short novel, Timio: historia de un niño campesino (item bi 89007497), in which Nelly Vargas focuses on that cynosure of Central American prose fiction: the rural problem.

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