Still Booming: The Revolutionary Enclave of South and Central American Literature

With American and British literature intent on creating black-holes of postmodernity and worm-holes to the neo-neo perhaps the most sturdy literary platform of that last few decades has been the ‘boom latinoamericano.’  Spurred on by its own vangardia to challenge existing forms but not to the point of auto-collapse, the writers of the Latina American Boom took Joycean modernism and sprinkled it with the more delectable bits of postmodernism and the revolutionary experiment.  One by one, entrenched authoritarian class-derived systems were hackled and eventually gave way in a stylised coup d’état resulting in a new ruling class.  All triumphs, especially those born of anti-aristocracy sentiment, promise to usher in a new age where existence becomes more meaningful for those at the former serf level. Suddenly, the new world of Pinochet, Che Guevara and Castro brimmed with new possibilities, as the previously splintered Central and South American continent became a collective culturally viable force.  With so much change in a short time the previously cemented notions of realism and origin became fluid and mutable, producing new flavours of fiction and experimental poetry.

Due to the scope and variance of the writers brought together, the literary boom long outlasted the promise of its political and revolutionary genesis.  Previously ignored writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier and Pablo Neruda came to the fore as the first Latin American writers to appeal to the publishing houses of Europe – and especially, the mother country of Spain.  This was quickly followed by novels from a new generation of writers including Vargas LLosa’s The Time of the Hero and  Cortázar’s Rayuela (Hopscotch), fiction that looked to Joyce, Mann, Sartre, and Proust but blended with the dark and mysterious work of the pre-Columbian ‘indiginistas.’  In fact, many of these new writers referred to themselves as the “orphan generation” in that they were cut off from the historical and cultural moorings of their predecessors.

Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch was inspired by the bleak tones of Edgar Allen Poe as well as the inventive story-telling techniques of Borges.  The novel dispenses with all notions of linear time and its chapters can be read in various order.  Carlos Fuentes’s The Death of Artemio Cruz explores revolutionary happenings from alternating points of view, thus intentionally collapsing the authoritarian position of the writer and allowing fresh perspectives. Gabriel García Márquez brought his unique deadpan usage of ‘magic realism’ to novels like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in a Time of Cholera, where stark reality is interspersed with automated states of magic and myth in a seamless manner.  Mario Vargas Llosa explores the complexity of cruelty from various angles in his The Time of the Hero, in a style that makes the reader vulnerable and prone the psychological affects of torture.  Wonderful works then followed from Manuel Puig, José Donoso, Jorge Amado – and later women writers such as Isabel Allende and Cristina Peri Rossi.

The Boom writers broke the cloying cultural grip of the Conquistadors and also helped to change the way that Latin America is perceived around the world.  Their works explored the juxtapositions of upper and lower classes, rural and urban settings, regional and national identities, ancient and colloquial sensitivities, as well as ideological utopia and political reality.  For the literary enthusiast it’s a treasure trove that just keeps on giving – but on its own non-colonialised terms.


About Daniel

Writer & Musician
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3 Responses to Still Booming: The Revolutionary Enclave of South and Central American Literature

  1. cgregory says:

    One Hundred Years of Solitude has one of the best opening lines in literature. Ever. Ever!

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