Customer Reviews (2)
Volume 1: The Model of a Well-Done Anthology
This anthology was published in 1977 and contained 116 works by some 70 authors. There were excerpts from 12 historical accounts, 20 novels, letters, essays, poems, a play, a newspaper and an autobiography. There were some 60 poems appearing in full and 6 short stories. The prose works took up about two-thirds of the book, with the remainder split evenly between the poetry and commentaries on each author and selection by the editor, the Uruguayan-born scholar Rodríguez Monegal.
The anthology covered a span of 450 years, from a letter written by Columbus in 1493 to a Spanish official describing his first voyage, to a novel by the Brazilian Lins do Rêgo published in 1943. Except for the Italian explorers Columbus and Vespucci, the authors during the first 300 years or so of this period, its viceroyalties of New Spain (Mexico and Central America), Peru (Spanish South America) and the later subdivisions, as well as Portugal and its colony of Brazil. For this era, the works consisted almost entirely of excerpts from historical accounts, letters and poetry, rather than fiction. Except for the poetry, few of the works were intended as literary creations.
For the final 150 years, following most of the region's independence from Spain and Portugal, there were authors from 12 Latin American nations. Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Uruguay were best represented. Peru and Chile had only one writer apiece, and there was nothing from Guatemala or Puerto Rico. It was this later period that contained nearly all the excerpts from novels.
The preponderance of factual accounts until the early 1800s, when most of the region won independence, reflected the overwhelming role played there by explorers, administrators, soldiers and priests, while the lack of fiction was attributed to censorship and the low priority given to publishing in general. In the Spanish colonies, for example, novels were banned from circulation during much of the colonial period, although chivalric romances and Don Quixote were sometimes smuggled in. Brazil, settled in the 1500s, lacked a printing press as late as the 1690s. Even with the historical accounts, a number spent centuries in archives before being rediscovered in the 1800s and eventually printed for circulation.
From the colonial period, themes in the selections naturally included the wonders of the New World, encounters with the natives, exploration, hardship and conquest, by the Italians Columbus and Vespucci, the Spaniards Fernández de Oveido, Cabeza de Vaca, Díaz del Castillo, Carvajal and Ercilla y Zuñiga, and the Portuguese Vaz de Caminha. Díaz del Castillo's account of the conquest of Mexico was called the only rival of Don Quixote during the Spanish Golden Age.
A few of the very early works projected onto the New World and its native inhabitants the chivalric behavior the authors had encountered in European romances and lyrical ballads. Other themes included protests against mistreatment of the Indians by the conquistadors, written by the Spanish Dominican priest Las Casas and the Portuguese Jesuit priest Vieira, and descriptions by others of mistreatment of the Indians by settlers of the Amazon basin. Among the most moving denunciations was one made by a priest to the Spanish in the New World, as described by Las Casas, for their enslavement of Indians living there: "Are these not men? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves? Don't you understand this? Don't you feel this? Why are you sleeping in such a profound and lethargic slumber?"
The anthology then showed the beginning of literature in the region by those who were native born. These included the first great native-born writer of prose and a collector of Inca legends, Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616); the first great native-born playwright and one of the best of the Spanish Golden Age, Ruiz de Alarcón (1580-1639); and the first great native-born poet, Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-95). These authors naturally saw themselves as Spanish and Portuguese who happened to be living across the Atlantic from the mother countries. But to the modern reader, they mark the real beginning of Latin American lit.
Also included were native-born chroniclers from the region's rich tradition of bawdy tales: Rodríguez Freile on the people of Bogota in the 1600s, and Arzáns de Orsúa y Vela on the great silver mining region of Potosí from the 1700s. Other types of works included Meléndez' religious biography of Saint Rose of Lima, the first native-born Christian saint, Pineda y Bascuñán's tale of captivity among the Indians, and a picaresque novel by Sigüenza y Góngora based on another person's life. This last book, The Misadventures of Alonso Ramírez (1690), was called a prototype for many narratives in the region that followed: the first-person telling of another's adventures. There were also several anonymous accounts of the failed uprising in the late 1700s against social injustice by the rebel Tupac Amaru II. From the early 1800s, there was an excerpt from Fernández de Lizardi's picaresque novel The Itching Parrot (1816), which the editor called the first real novel published in Latin America and a fundamental influence on modern Spanish American novels.
From the early 1800s, around the time of colonial independence, literary efforts turned away from Spanish and Portuguese models and based themselves largely on more modern literary styles from France and on English romantic poetry. Romanticism entered the region's literature from the 1820s, some decades after Europe, through poets like Olmedo, Heredia and Bello, who were familiar with the English romantic poets, and more heavily in the 1830s through Echeverrìa, influenced by the French. From romanticism onward, the development of the region's lit was closely linked to developments in the French literary world. The writings of Rousseau became the main source of political ideology for the newly created nations in the region, and Hugo and Byron became models for poetic style and political attitude. At the same time, other writers returned to the tradition of Spanish picaresque realism. And still others such as Palma recreated the traditional life of Spanish American society through humorous chronicles of life in the capitals and the provinces during the colonial period, blending realism and a romantic vision in a uniquely Latin American way.
Successive French influences on the region's fiction included the realism of Balzac and naturalism, which entered mainly through the work of the Goncourt Brothers, Maupassant and Zola. Latin American writers mentioned as following or surpassing naturalism included Viana, Quiroga, Güiraldes, Ramos, Lins do Rêgo and Amado in his early novels.
Themes in the novels from the 1800s and thereafter included revolution and the life of the peasants (Guzmán Franco and Azuela), Indian uprisings (Galván), the devouring jungle and brutal exploitation of workers (Rivera), the conflict between civilization and barbarism (Sarmiento, Cunha, Gallegos), city-dwellers (Alencar, called the founding father of Brazilian fiction), the working class of Rio de Janeiro (Almeida), and pointed social satire (Machado de Assis, Barreto). A number of the later Brazilian novels (Cunha, Ramos, Lins do Rêgo, Amado) were set in that country's northeast, a region the editor compared to the American South. As for the gauchos, there were works in prose and poetry showing them as everything from outlaws and idlers (Cancolorcorvo) to brutes in the employ of a dictator, doomed degenerates and a symbol of all that was bad (Echeverrìa, Viana, Sarmiento), to heroes (Güiraldes), an exploited minority (Hernández) and figures of fun (Campo).
The poetry selections covered the Renaissance (Ercilla y Zuñiga), Baroque (Balbuena, Inés de la Cruz, Guevara, Sandoval y Zapata, Matos), neoclassical (Bello), romantic (Olmedo, Heredia, Castro Alves), eclectic (Campo, Hernández, Martí), modernista (Dario, Díaz Mirôn, Casal, Lugones), avant-garde (Herrera y Reissig), and others more individual (Augustini, Tablada, Fernández, López Velarde, Mistral and Reyes). The work from the Renaissance, The Araucana, dating from 1569, was described as the best epic poem in the Spanish language, the national epic poem of Chile, and the first literary text produced in the New World that was based on its own history.
The Baroque poets were claimed to be the first in the region to contribute a really new voice to Hispanic literature, by following European models but taking greater freedom in their style and incorporating elements indigenous to their continent's nature and societies, and the work of Matos was called the foundation of a truly national Brazilian poetry. In the post-colonial period, the work by Hernández on the fictitious gaucho Martín Fierro was described as Argentina's national classic. Finally, the modernistas, led by Darío from the late 1800s and into the new century, won special praise as a coherent movement that was authentically Spanish American, united various strands of development in each country, and reversed the trend of European influence.
Other themes in the collection as a whole, mentioned in passing, included the cycles of revolution in the region (liberation from Spain in the 1800s, Mexico in 1910, Cuba in 1959). Failed revolutionaries transformed into martyrs (Tupac Amaru II in 1781, Che Guevara in 1967). Literary booms, with that enjoyed by Azuela, Rivera and Gallegos in the 1920s preceding that of the 1960s. And the tension in the post-colonial period between the region's political balkanization and individual literatures on the one hand, and the striving on the other toward cultural unity based on a common language, traditions and religious heritage, aimed at a literature written from a continental perspective that transcended national boundaries.
Most of the works were educational and/or enjoyable in one way or another. Among the historical accounts, those by Díaz del Castillo and Garcilaso were especially vivid and entertaining. Also memorable were the grim conflict and doom depicted in Acevedo Díaz' short story "The Battle of the Ruins." And in the excerpts from novels, the struggle of men and nature described vividly in Rivera's "The Vortex" and the bleak poverty shown movingly in Ramos' "Barren Lives."
For the poetry, especially enjoyable was that included by Rubén Darío. It was celebratory ("Learn to be what you are, embodied enigmas . . . Come, cricket, sing in the moonlight; bear, come dance."). Meditative ("We crystallize, in words and thoughts, what the tree would like to say and what it says to the wind, and what the animal manifests with its instincts. But the only difference lies in the way of speaking."). Confrontational when addressed to a northern neighbor ("The voice that would reach you, Hunter, must speak in Biblical tones, or in the poetry of Walt Whitman. You are primitive and modern, simple and complex . . . You think that life is a fire, that progress is an irruption, that the future is wherever your bullet strikes. No."). And despairing ("Happy the tree that scarcely feels, and happier the hard stone not to feel at all, for there is no pain greater than the pain of being alive, nor burden as heavy as conscious existence."). And the poetry of Uruguay's Delmira Augustini ("Hands heaped with secret destinies and jeweled with rings of mystery . . . . hands in which one feels a never-seen dagger, hands in which one sees an intangible scepter . . . . to all of them I managed to link a dream.").
Surprisingly, the anthology contained nothing by Horacio Quiroga, the editor's countryman who's considered a founder of the modern short story in the region. Other prose writers who might've been included were Guatemala's José Milla (1822-82), whose prose sketches satirized the society of his day; Peru's Manuel González Prada (1848-1918), called one of that nation's most influential literary figures and a beacon for socially conscious successors in the region; Chile's Daniel Riquelma (1857-1912), who's been described as that nation's first important writer of short stories; and Mexico's Manuel Gutiérrez Najera (1859-95) who wrote sad, gentle, ironic observations on life.
Also missing were some who wrote poetry satirizing the human condition: a poet of the 1600s, Juan del Valle y Caviedes, who's been compared to Villon, Rafael García Goyena (1766-1823) and Antonio José Irisarri (1786-1868). Or who showed a fascination for black humor or morbid romantic poetry: Mexico's Miguel Acuña (1849-73) and Colombia's José Asunción Silvà (1865-96).
Of the some 70 authors who were included, just three were women: the poets Juana Inés de la Cruz, Delmira Augustini and Gabriela Mistral. Others from the period covered who might've been added were the Cuban poet Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814-73) Argentina's Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-92), the Peruvian writer of socially committed novels Clorinda Matto de Turner (1853-1909), and the Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni (1892-1938).
Whatever omissions or minor factual inaccuracies there might have been, and however vague the editor's literary arguments in his introduction about "universalizing the parochial," "application of a structuralist method of reading" and "blending Góngora's culteranism with Quevedo's conceptism," the anthology as a whole contained a wealth of writing spanning the centuries, painstakingly collected and skillfully arranged with incisive background that clarified its development. As an introduction to the region's rich literature, it was eye-opening. It's by far the best one-volume intro to the region's literature up through the early 20th century that I've seen.
Volume 2: Worthwhile
This anthology was published in 1977 by Rodríguez Monegal, a noted literary critic and scholar of Latin American literature, as well as editor of an influential literary magazine during the Latin American "boom" of the 1960s. He himself helped launch the careers of Cabrera Infante, Puig and Sarduy, besides promoting writers such as García Márquez, Fuentes and Vargas Llosa. His anthology is one of the earliest comprehensive ones in English compiled by someone actually from the region; later ones included González Echevarría's Oxford Book of Latin American Short Stories (1997) and Fuentes' Vintage Book of Latin American Stories (1998).
The anthology covered the period from the 1920s to the early 70s, focusing especially on the 1950s and 60s. It differed from others read for the region in including many excerpts from novels and much poetry, rather than mainly short stories; the poetry comprised about a third of the book. A substantial amount of background information on the authors was also included, amounting to about 15% of the book. There were 14 excerpts from novels, 11 short stories and 115 poems, by 65 authors from 11 nations. In prose, Argentina, Brazil and Cuba were the best-represented countries. In poetry, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Mexico and Peru.
The excerpts from novels were written or published in the 1920s: Mario de Andrade (Macunaíma); the 1940s: Carpentier (The War of Time) and Asturias (El Señor Presidente); the 1950s: Guimarães Rosa (The Devil to Pay in the Backlands); the 1960s: Sabato (On Heroes and Tombs), Lispector (The Passion According to G. H.), Donoso (This Sunday), Vargas Llosa (The Green House), Lezama Lima (Paradiso), Sarduy (Cuba with a Song), Cabrera Infante (Three Trapped Tigers) and Arenas (Hallucinations); and the 1970s: Piñon (House of Passion), Puig (The Buenos Aires Affair) and Sáinz (The Princess of the Iron Palace).
The poetry included older poets (Huidobro, Vallejo, Neruda, Gorostiza, Guillén, the two de Andrades -- Mario and Oswald -- Drummond de Andrade and Bandeira) and later ones such as Girri, Padilla and Cardenal.
The book didn't include authors such as Carmen Lyra, Arlt, Pinera, Roa Bastos, Arreola or Monterroso. As with many anthologies for this region before the mid-1980s, only a few female authors were selected: Lispector, Piñon, and the poets Idea Vilareño from Uruguay and Blanca Varela from Peru.
The introduction mentioned numerous connections to the Parisian avant-garde of many poets and prose writers who came of age in the decades before WWII (Borges, Asturias, Carpentier, the poets Huidobro, Vallejo, Moro, Neruda and Paz), while making clear that they avoided mere imitation of European models and effectively integrated into their work either pre-Columbian themes and motifs or the cosmopolitan attitudes of contemporary Latin America.
I found the book very enlightening in terms of the detailed background supplied for the literature, written from firsthand knowledge. For many of the selections themselves, it was somewhat less enjoyable, despite the fact that so many of them and their authors are landmarks in the region's literature. Readers who like high modernist, often surrealist prose and poetry -- fragmented, mythic, sprawling, frequently hermetic -- would be able to appreciate it more.
Most enjoyable for me were a story by Onetti, "A Dream Come True," written in a sharp, realistic style but on a subject, death, that finally transcended realism. And the excerpt of a novel by Puig, compassionately mocking the interview style of fashion magazines and how people transform their lives into drama.
Among the poetry, "Didactic Elegy" by the Brazilian Lêdo Ivo, which mixed black humor and deep sentiment at the passing of time. "Passion Story: Hollywood, California," by the Brazilian Vinicius de Moraes, comically describing the effect of Hollywood films and a beautiful American woman on the narrator. The Brazilian Manuel Bandeira's work from the 1930s on childhood and the passing of time, the Venezuelan Guillermo Sucre's 1970s erotic poetry, and the Cuban Cintio Vitier's poetry on a child's wonder at the world.
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