[Home] [Current Tables of Contents]

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Volume 54 / Humanities


20th Century Prose Fiction: Hispanic Caribbean

ENRIQUE SACERIO-GARI, Professor of Spanish, Bryn Mawr College
CARLOS R. HORTAS, Dean of Humanities and Arts, Hunter College-City University of New York

LITERATURE HAS ALWAYS BEEN in transition. The search for new horizons, generic experimentation and generational struggles are always at work for/against traditional confines and future expectations. What marks a moment may mark a generation; what moves an individual may transform the deepest traditions of a nation. It seems that the Caribbean has always been in crisis. Generation after generation faces up to the idiosyncrasies of the region and sets out to secure a better future, a future that is usually frustrated by chronic internal strife or by the persistent intervention of foreign powers.

The works reviewed during the past years for this section confirm that women writers are a major reason for the quality of Puerto Rican literature. One obvious trend in Cuban prose is the publication of most works outside of Cuba. The current crisis, based on the collapse of Soviet socialism and the increased pressure by the US, has exposed all the inefficiencies of Cuba's economy and the tenuous underpinning of its cultural project. Changed priorities under the "special period" and the scarcity of paper and electricity have contributed to inactivity or further exodus of writers.

The memoirs of Reinaldo Arenas (item bi 94013538) and Guillermo Cabrera Infante's Mea Cuba (item bi 94013617) present stark tales of the deterioration of the individual under socialist political correctness. In a society that divides itself between revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries, there is a tendency to identify certain persons, stigmatized by political discrimination or social prejudices, with the counterrevolutionary group. The security apparatus is prepared to monitor society by means of simple categorizations, often based on ignorance and bigotry. When it meets resistance to political conformity or opposition to a normative code, it mobilizes fiercely against the individual. Such heightened scrutiny leads to outcomes such as the ill-advised censure of the documentary PM (that Cabrera Infante incessantly reviews), the persecution of conspicuous homosexuality (detailed by Reinaldo Arenas), or the unforgivable battering of María Elena Cruz Valera.

Jesús Díaz (who left Cuba) and Lisandro Otero (who comes and goes) share their tales of frustration from within the Revolution. Díaz's Las palabras perdidas and Otero's Arbol de la vida (items bi 94012921 and bi 94012962) grasp the grayish zones of those who conformed and fought for Cuban socialism, often with great idealism and sacrifice, and were ultimately disillusioned or set back by corrupt opportunists or treacherous political climbers. Miguel Barnet takes a more nostalgic approach in Oficio de ángel which explores his recollections from childhood to the early 1960s and devotes many pages to the recovery of images (item bi 94013540). Luis Manuel García's Habanecer (item bi 94013618) constitutes an experimental tour de force in Cuban narrative which deserves to be seriously studied. Senel Paz's "El Lobo, el Bosque y el Hombre Nuevo" (item bi 92013631), a complex exploration of sexual and political orientations, is perhaps the most controversial short story ever to appear in Unión. Its publication may mark an important transition in Cuban letters. Cabrera Infante's unexpurgated Tres tristes tigres (item bi 92019478), which recalls another era of censorship, and new printings of Dulce María Loynaz's Jardín and Un verano en Tenerife (items bi 94013620 and bi 94014638) are among the important recent reeditions.

Criticism in Cuba is best represented by the work of Desiderio Navarro, who against all odds continues to produce Criterios. Some critics have written extensively about the demise of detective fiction (item bi 91020786 and bi 92010234) and good work has also been done on women writers and intellectual history (items bi 91026421 and bi 92019491). Roberto Valero's brief essay on exiled writers is an outstanding reflection on Reinaldo Arenas (item bi 91008683) and Antón Arrufat's analysis of La carne de René by Piñera is a touching tribute to the Cuban master (item bi 92010950). Antonio Benítez Rojo's The repeating island is a skillful attempt to outline the fractal realities of Caribbean culture (item bi 92017129), while Emilio Bejel's interviews constitute a major historical document for students of Cuban cultural policies and the role of the intellectual (item bi 92019484), and Nadie Lie analyzes the discourse about the intellectual in Casa de las Américas (item bi 92009932).

Cuba faces another end of a century with hunger at home and many writers abroad. Whether in Cuba, or residing or working temporarily in other countries (from different waves of migration and belonging to different exile communities), Cuban fiction writers holding diverse views of cultural politics and the coming transformation of Cuban society still have much to say and do.

Rosario Ferré's writings highlight literary production in Puerto Rico. As of this date, Ferré emerges as the leading Puerto Rican writer of her time and has made important contributions to various literary genres: poetry, the novel, the short story, and the literary and cultural essay. The essays in El árbol y sus sombras (item bi 92014564) are models of well-written, incisive, and provocative prose, and Papeles de Pandora includes excellent samples of her short stories and poems (item bi 93000172).

Women writers in general have achieved exceptional literary prominence in Puerto Rico in the last 10 years, as is evidenced by María Solá's critical anthology of women writers, Aquí cuentan las mujeres (item bi 93000168). The work of earlier women writers is also being restored to prominence, as in Julio Ramos' edition of Amor y anarquía: los escritos de Luisa Capetillo (item bi 93000170). All in all, women writers are finally receiving their due and are being recognized for the prominent role they have always played in Puerto Rican letters.

Go to the:

Begin a Basic Search | Begin an Expert Search

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian (10/16/06)