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Volume 54 / Humanities


20th Century Prose Fiction: Central America

RENE PRIETO, Associate Professor of Spanish, Southern Methodist University

COSTA RICA CONTINUES TURNING OUT a veritable avalanche of literary and critical texts. Writings of the post-1960s reveal an ever growing social awareness as well as a focus on women both as victims, and as agents of change. Among them, Carmen Naranjo continues to hold center stage, her Protean fiction serving as a perpetual source of inspiration for younger writers. As pointed out by Luz Ivette Martínez in her illuminating article (item bi 93006605), Naranjo's search for authenticity shines forth in her earliest poetry, and infuses life, into three recent and sensitive works about man's painful isolation. Otro rumbo para la rumba (item bi 92018458), Nunca hubo alguna vez (item bi 93018939), and El caso 117,720 (item bi 92018461).

Like most of its neighbors to the north and south, Costa Rica has undergone dramatic changes in the past 30 years. Both the cities and the middle class have grown by leaps and bounds. The struggles and hardships of this spreading urban population are showcased in novels and shorts stories such as Naranjo's, which are now being written in every Central American capital. The exodus from rural to urban communities and from extended to nuclear families in metropolitan centers riddled with crime, greed, and ruthless competition has led to incommunicability, isolation, and desencanto, all themes of the crisis of postmodernity. Seidy Araya (item bi 93006606) exemplifies post-1960s Costa Rican writers who review the world not merely as aesthetes but also as reformers and sociologists. Their politically-conscious fiction is a mirror held to a society undergoing overwhelming changes. But Costa Ricans are not alone in regarding themselves as reformers. For example, the Salvadoran Nidia López (item bi 92018443), and the Nicaraguan Tomás Borge (item bi 90003307), examine at length the role of the Revolution, and make suggestions for improving living conditions in their respective countries.

This need to understand the present has led a number of Central American authors to turn to their own past, and to examine the historical and literary traditions from which such voices of change have emerged. These are exemplified by La voz desgarrada (item bi 92018449) Alvaro Quesada Soto's analysis of the political crisis that culminated in Federico Tinoco's dictatorship in Costa Rica (1917-19); Jorge Valdeperas' examination of the contribution of three generations of authors in Para una nueva interpretación de la literatura costarricense (item bi 920209947); and Rafael Martínez Lara's thorough demonstration of how the philosophy of earlier Salvadoran poets informed the work of Francisco Gavidia (item bi 93003185). Pondering over such contemporary innovations has inspired editors to reconsider old masters in new anthologies such as the Antología de relato costarricense (item bi 92018442), the first collection of Costan Rican short stories to be published in more than 20 years.

In addition to exploring the forces of tradition and creativity, Central American writers are also drawn to examine the constancy of war, violence, and political repression in the region, a trend evident in works such as David Escobar Galindo's disturbing stories in Gente que pasa (item bi 93003171), Nicasio Urbina's finely wrought tall "La Voz de los Lobos" in El libro de las palabras enajenadas (item bi 93003191), and Hernán Solís' mordantly ironic El aprendiz de Redentor (item bi 93018958). Although the theme of war permeates these work, there is a. marked constrast between the present-oriented battlefield literature of early revolutionary days, and the more recent reevaluations of past events such as Sergio Ramírez's Confesión de amor (item bi 93003175). No longer written in the present-tense form of guerrilla diaries as in the past, these later works are now oriented towards the future and the prospect of formulating programs that will bring about lasting social reform.

In this region of tragic and violent change, the victims of choice have always been the indigenous populations. In Operación Iscariote (item bi 93003140), Miguel Angel Vázquez portrays the downfall of an agrarian community in a novel that brings to mind Carlos Castillo Armas' self-serving invasion of Guatemala in 1955. The men of maize play a dramatically different role in Arturo Aria's highly original Jaguar en llamas (item bi 93003152), a fascinating blend of past and present, Mayan mythology and latifundio that is greatly indebted to the mythical masterpieces of Miguel Angel Asturias. Asturias himself happens to be very much in the limelight after the publication of Luis Cardoza y Aragón's Miguel Angel Asturias: casi novela (item bi 93003176), Juan Olivero's El Miguel Angel Asturias que yo conocí (item bi 93003126), Rene Prieto's Miguel Angel Asturias's archaeology of return (item bi 94008115), and of engrossing new critical editions of Hombres de maíz (item bi 93018910), and of Asturias' own journalism written during his most formative years in 1924-33 (item bi 93003190).

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