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Volume 56 / Humanities


20th Century Prose Fiction: Central America

RENE PRIETO, Professor of Spanish, Southern Methodist University

WOMEN AUTHORS CONTINUE TO EXCEED themselves in their writing by working beyond the narrow confine of boundaries, by providing new role models for Latin American women, and by reshaping the world according to their ideals. Curiously - albeit, not surprisingly - a handful have come up with plots in which upper- and middle-class women like the authors themselves fall in love with leftist militants and revolutionaries. In Claribel Alegría's Despierta mi bien despierta (item bi 94012564) and Gioconda Belli's La mujer habitada (item bi 94012517) the authors fantasize about women who discover the need to revolt against a sick society. Depiction of social revolution in these stories comes hand in hand with the portrayal of sexual liberation; emancipated female protagonists suggest new roles for Latin American women, exhorting them to engage in reshaping their lives.

As Central American women authors portray them nowadays, the new Latin American heroine is not merely equal to man, but rather, morally and spiritually, she is his superior. The estranged heroine in Belli's Sofía de los presagios (item bi 94012580) is gifted with qualities of intuition and tenderness that empower her as a role model, making her better able to shape her country than the many men under whose direction it has been foundering since independence. These books suggest that when a civilization persists in destroying itself, it becomes essential to shift the focus of power towards such revolutionary women. Is this desire for a shift simply wishful thinking or is it a sense of foreboding? Are such women ready to claim a superiority so many authors attribute to their gender?

Ready or not, the voice of Central American women is stronger than ever. In Costa Rica, where it seems nearly half the regional novels are being published, there is even a new literary monographic series entitled "Narrativa Ellas Cuentan." Edited by Linda Berrón, this series publishes books by and about women such as Relatos de mujeres: antología de narradoras de Costa Rica (item bi 94012582). Other important works written by Costa Rican women include Tierra de espejismos (item bi 94012581), by Julieta Pinto, founder and first director of the Dept. of Literature of the National University, and Responso por el niño Juan Manuel, by the equally prolific Carmen Naranjo (item bi 94012514). Naranjo has long been concerned with the portrayal of identity, but this interest is by no means unique among Central America's fiction writers.

In Los molinos de Dios (item bi 94012528), Alberto Cañas explores the story of a family who made its fortune in the coffee plantations of Costa Rica, and in La otra cara (item bi 94012570), originally written in the Kanjobal language, Gaspar Pedro González questions, from within, the Mayan identity and its relationship to ladino culture. Last but not least, in the story "Sos una Bicha" from Elvira y el arcángel: historias sin cuento 1990 (item bi 94012505), David Escobar Galindo sketches a dialogue with a young prostitute in an attempt to define who she really is and where she comes from. Identity - whether in matters of gender, ethnicity or age - is, without a doubt, the leading preoccupation of most authors writing in Central America today.

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