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Volume 58 / Humanities

LITERATURE: SPANISH AMERICA


20th Century Prose Fiction: Central America

WILFRIDO H. CORRAL, Professor of Literature, University of California at Davis


TOWARD THE END OF THE 20TH CENTURY, Central American literature tended to represent a distancing from the immediate national and regional referents that were largely responsible for the previous preponderance of testimonial discourse. This disposition was a historical necessity appropriated by critics for purposes the authors may not have intended. Thus, the reaction to David Stoll's accusations regarding the veracity of Rigoberta Menchú's writings has become an enterprise that is still growing as of the publication of this essay. Nevertheless, the power of literature that can be equally committed and still produce esthetic pleasure is alive and well, as seen in works by Augusto Monterroso (items #bi2001002175#, #bi2001002180#, #bi2001002185#, and #bi2001002195#) and Sergio Ramírez (items #bi 97001967# and #bi2001002161#), by far two of the most important Latin American writers at the beginning of the 21st century. Both authors illustrate how true literary value can overcome an endemic problem for Central American authors: the curse of national editions and minimal distribution. Most translations into English are done by courageous, smaller publishers, and conceivably, demanding commitment as the writer's exclusive task (see Monteforte, item #bi 97001968#) greatly contributes to a lack of exposure.

Writers such as Gioconda Belli serve as strong voices for the diversity of Central American literature, and women authors are certainly a force with which to be reckoned. However, there is no equality in the sense that both male and female authors tend to textualize their own gender's concerns, thereby falling into sexist themes or victimology. Coupled with these concerns are narratives devoted to racial hybridity (see Liano, item #bi 97012816#). Naturally, an accounting of the late-1970s and early-1980s exile experience was also to be expected (see Horra, item #bi 97012822#, and Schrijver, item #bi 97012825#), but the results have been uneven.

Perhaps the most consistent genre is still the short story, and its practitioners are on a par with writers elsewhere in the Americas. In this genre, Alfonso Chase is recognized as canonical. With his novel El pavo real y la mariposa (item #bi 97012821#), a major contribution to the type of historical novels that recreate the 19th and early-20th centuries, Chase should find a larger public, were it not for the national edition limitations mentioned above.

Tatiana Lobo's Calypso (item #bi 97001955#) is more promising as a novel than Belli's Waslala: memorial del futuro (item #bi 97012814#). Nevertheless, and more importantly, both are typical of the quandary in which Central Americans now find themselves: should they write lyrical allegories of sad historical conditions that possibly will never change (as does Belli) or should they not give in to the exoticism that sells well abroad, especially in the US, and write with a more cosmopolitan bent (as does Lobo)? This dichotomy seems to have been resolved by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, whose Ningún lugar sagrado (item #bi2001002166#) is a subtle, generic combination similar to the works of Monterroso and Ramírez. It appears that very few authors of recent generations, in their predictable (and in some cases accurate) desire to commit literary parricide, have given in to misguided "globalizing" impulses without noticing the richness of the Central American world. For this reason, Ricardo Roque Baldovinos' recovery and sorely needed edition of Salarrué's narrative is a major event (item #bi2001002156#), as are Jorge Eduardo Arellano's wonderful study of Darío's Los raros (item #bi2001002171#) and his useful albeit limited Diccionario de escritores centroamericanos (item #bi2001002151#). The search for Central American identity is not the template anymore, which may be a sign of better things to come, despite the region's enduring and troubling social conditions, and devastating and continuous natural disasters.


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