The Latin American Boom (Boom Latinoamericano) was a literary movement of the 1960s and 1970s when the work of a group of relatively young Latin American novelists became widely circulated in Europe and throughout the world. The Boom is most closely associated with Julio Cortázar of Argentina, Carlos Fuentes of Mexico, Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru, and Gabriel García Márquez of Colombia. Influenced by European and North American Modernism, but also by the Latin American Vanguardia movement, these writers challenged the established conventions of Latin American literature. Their work is experimental and, owing to the political climate of the Latin America of the 1960s, also very political.
The writers of the Latin American Boom became world famous through their writing and political advocacy, drawing attention to the conditions of political authoritarianism and social inequality. They brought more attention to Latin America than any other factor, save perhaps the Cuban Revolution.
The sudden success of the Boom authors was in large part due to the fact that their works were among the first Latin American novels to be published in Europe, by publishing houses such as Barcelona's avant-garde Seix Barral in Spain.
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The 1960s and 1970s were decades of political turmoil all over Latin America, in a political and diplomatic climate strongly influenced by the dynamics of the Cold War. This climate formed the background for the work of the writers of the Latin American Boom, and defined the context in which their sometimes radical ideas had to operate. The Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the subsequent United States attempt to thwart it through the Bay of Pigs invasion can be seen as the start of this period. Cuba's vulnerability led it to closer ties with the USSR, resulting in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when the US and USSR came dangerously close to nuclear war. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s military authoritarian regimes ruled in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and many others. For example, on September 11, 1973 the democratically elected President Salvador Allende was overthrown in Chile and replaced by General Augusto Pinochet who would go on to rule until the end of the 1980s. Chile under Pinochet became "infamous for […] human rights abuses and torture techniques", and in Argentina the 1970s brought the Dirty War, notorious for its human rights violations and the disappearances of Argentine citizens. Many of these governments (who were supported by the US) cooperated with each other in terms of torturing or eliminating political opponents and "disposing of their bodies" in "the so-called Operation Condor."
The period between 1950 and 1975 saw major changes in the way in which history and literature were interpreted and written. It also produced a change in the self-perception of Spanish American novelists. The development of the cities, the coming of age of a large middle class, the Cuban Revolution, the Alliance for Progress, an increase in communication between the countries of Latin America, the greater importance of the mass media, and a greater attention to Latin America from Europe and the United States all contributed to this change. The most important political events of the period were the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the Chilean coup d´état in 1973. The fall of General Perón in Argentina, the protracted violent struggle of the urban guerrillas, brutally repressed in Argentina and Uruguay, and the unending violence in Colombia also affected writers, as they generated explanations, or testimonies, or provided a troubling background for their work.
The greater attention paid to Spanish American novelists and their international success in the 1960s, a phenomenon that was called the Boom, affected all writers and readers in that period. What mainly brought writers together and focused the attention of the world on Spanish America was the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which promised a new age. The period of euphoria can be considered closed when in 1971 the Cuban government hardened its party line and the poet Heberto Padilla was forced to reject in a public document his so-called decadent and deviant views. The furor over Padilla's case brought to an end the affinity between Spanish American intellectuals and the Cuban inspirational myth. The Padilla affair is thought by some to have signaled the beginning of the end of the Boom.
The rise of Latin American literature began with the writings of Jose Martí, Ruben Darío and José Asunción Silva's modernist departures from the European literary canon. European modernist writers like James Joyce also influenced the writers of the Boom, as have the Latin American writers of the Vanguardia movement. Elizabeth Coonrod Martinez argues that the writers of the Vanguardia were the "true precursors" to the Boom, writing innovative and challenging novels before Borges and others conventionally thought to be the main Latin American inspirations for the mid-20th century movement.
In 1950, Spanish American novelists were tolerated but marginal in the literary landscape, with Paris and New York representing the center of the literary world; by 1975 they were celebrated as central figures. As well as a publishing phenomenon, the Boom introduced a series of novel aesthetic and stylistic features to world literature. In general—and considering there are many countries and hundreds of important authors—at the start of the period Realism prevails, with novels tinged by an existentialist pessimism, with well-rounded characters lamenting their destinies, and a straightforward narrative line. In the 1960s, language loosens up, gets hip, pop, streetwise, characters are much more complex, and the chronology becomes intricate, making of the reader an active participant in the deciphering of the text. Late in the period the political adventure goes sour, while the linguistic sophistication reaches a new height, and novelists turn more to a reflection on their own writing, a fiction on fiction or metafiction, while characters and story lines show the corrosive power of a postmodern society, where all is equally available and insignificant.
With the success of the Boom, the work of a previous generation of writers gained access to a new and expanded public. These precursors include Jorge Luis Borges, Miguel Ángel Asturias, and Alejo Carpentier, Juan Carlos Onetti, and Juan Rulfo
Jorge Luis Borges (1898-1986) was an Argentine poet, short story writer and essayist whose most famous works include A Universal History of Infamy (1935), Ficciones (1944) and The Aleph (1949). He wrote stories that he described as fiction or symbolic stories, with real or imaginary characters which move between the reality, magic and satiric scenes.
While most critics agree that the Boom started some time in the 1960s, there is some disagreement as to which work should be considered the first Boom novel. Some (such as Alfred McAdam) would start with Julio Cortázar's Rayuela (Hopscotch) (1963) while others prefer Vargas Llosa's The Time of the Hero which won the Biblioteca Breve Award in 1962. Fernando Alegria considers Roa Bastos's Hijo de hombre the inaugural work of the Boom even though, as Shaw notes, "it was published in 1959." One could, however, even go as far back as Miguel Ángel Asturias's 1949 novel Men of Maize.
Another variation is articulated by Randolph D. Pope: "The story of the Boom could start chronologically with Miguel Angel Asturias's El Señor Presidente (published in 1946, but started in 1922). Other starting points could be Sabato's "El túnel" (1948) or Onetti's "El pozo" (1939). Or go even farther back, to the vanguardist movements of the 1920s. However, the writers of the Boom declared themselves orphaned and without any autochthonous model, caught between their admiration for Proust, Joyce, Mann, Sartre and other European writers and their need to have a Spanish American voice, even if they rejected the most respected Spanish American writers Indigenistas, Criollistas, and Mundonovistas."
The major representatives of the Boom claimed that they were an "orphan" literary generation, without a "Latin American "father" of influence;" however, they owe much of their stylistic innovation to the Vanguardists. Jean Franco writes that the Boom marks "a refusal to be identified with the rural or with anachronistic narratives such as the novela de la tierra."
The Boom novels are essentially modernist novels. They treat time as nonlinear, often use more than one perspective or narrative voice and feature a great number of neologisms (the coining of new words or phrases), puns and even profanities. As Pope writes, in reference to the style of the Boom: "It relied on a Cubist superposition of different points of view, it made time and lineal progress questionable, and it was technically complex. Linguistically self assured, it used the vernacular without apologies." Other notable characteristics of the Boom include the treatment of both "rural and urban settings," internationalism, an emphasis on both the historical and the political, as well as "questioning of regional as well as, or more than, national identity; awareness of hemisphereic as well as worldwide economic and ideological issues; polemicism; and timeliness." Boom literature breaks down the barriers between the fantastical and the mundane, transforming this mixture into a new reality. Of the Boom writers, Gabriel García Márquez is most closely associated with the use of magical realism; indeed, he is credited with bringing it "into vogue" after the publishing of One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1966.
In The Ends of Literature, Brett Levinson writes that magical realism, "a key aesthetic mode within recent Latin American fiction … materializes when Latin American history reveals itself as incapable of accounting for its own origin, an incapacity which traditionally … represents a demand for a myth: mythos as a means to explain the beginnings which escape history's narrative." The writings of the Chroniclers of the Indies depicted the exotic "new world" and their accounts of conquering strange new lands became accepted as history. These often fantastical stories helped to bring about a new aesthetic, which morphed into magical realism and "(as conceived by Alejo Carpentier) marvelous realism or lo real maravilloso. According to this aesthetic, unreal things are treated as if realistic and mundane, and mundane things as if unreal. Plots, while often based on real experiences, incorporate strange, fantastic, and legendary elements, mythical peoples, speculative settings, and characters who, while plausible, could also be unreal, and combine the true, the imaginary, and the nonexistent in such a way that they are difficult to separate."
An interest in history is another characteristic of the novels of the Boom period. The epitome of this is the dictator novel where historical figures and events were portrayed in a way that connections between them and contemporary events in Latin America could not be doubted. An example is Roa Bastos's I, the Supreme, which depicts the nineteenth century Paraguayan dictatorship of Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia but was published at the height of Alfredo Stroessner's regime. Nunn writes that "novelists of the Boom themselves evinced a sophisticated grasp of their genre's ability to depict parallel and alternative history. And they actively participated in the cultural and political debates of the region that questioned the very meaning and worth of history."
The Boom was not a group, but a critical designation by those who recognized common themes. Who to include has been widely debated and never settled. However, a few writers exerted wide and undisputed influence. While the names of many other writers may be added to the list, the following may not be omitted:
Julio Cortázar was born in Belgium in 1914 and lived with his parents in Switzerland until moving to Buenos Aires at the age of four. Like other Boom writers, Cortázar grew to question the politics in his country: his public opposition to Juan Domingo Perón caused him to leave his professorial position at the University of Mendoza and ultimately, to his exile. He moved to France, where he spent most of his professional life and, in 1981, he became a French citizen. Like García Márquez, Cortázar publicly supported the Cuban government of Fidel Castro, as well as leftist Chilean President Salvador Allende and other left-wing movements like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
Cortázar was influenced by Borges, as well as by Edgar Allan Poe. He was perhaps the most radically experimental of all the Boom authors. His most important work, and the one that propelled him to international recognition, is the highly experimental novel Hopscotch (1963). This consists of 155 chapters, 99 of which are "expendable," which can be read in multiple orders according to the reader's predilection.
His other works include the short story collections Bestiario (1951), Final del juego (1956), Las armas secretas (1959), Todos los fuegos el fuego (1966). He also wrote novels such as Los premios (1960) and Around the Day in Eighty Worlds (1967), and the unclassifiable Historias de cronopios y de famas (1962). Cortázar died in Paris, France in 1985.
Carlos Fuentes began to publish in the 1950s. He is the son of a Mexican diplomat and has lived in cities such as Buenos Aires, Quito, Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro, as well as Washington, D.C.. His experiences with anti-Mexican discrimination in the United States led him to examine Mexican culture more closely. His novel The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962) describes the life of a former Mexican revolutionary on his deathbed, employing innovative changes in narrative point-of-view. Other important works include Where the Air Is Clear (1959), Aura (1962), Terra Nostra (1975), and the post-Boom novella The Old Gringo (1985).
Fuentes not only wrote some of the most important novels of the period, but was also a critic and publicist of Spanish America. In 1955 Fuentes and Emmanuel Carballo founded the journal Revista Mexicana de Literatura which introduced Latin Americans to the works of European Modernists and the ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. In 1969 he published the important critical work, La nueva novela hispanoamericana. Fuentes held the position of professor of Latin American literature at Columbia University (1978) and at Harvard (1987). He once said that "the so-called Boom, in reality, is the result of four centuries that, literary, reached a moment of urgency in which fiction became the way to organize lessons from the past."
Gabriel García Márquez is undoubtedly the most internationally renowned of the Boom writers. He started out as a journalist and has written many acclaimed non-fiction and short stories; his earliest published writings were short stories which appeared in Bogotá's El Espectador newspaper in the 1940s.
He is best-known for novels such as One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), novellas such as No One Writes to the Colonel (1962), and post-Boom work such as Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). He has achieved significant critical acclaim and widespread commercial success, most notably for introducing what has been labeled magic realism (sometimes "magical realism") to the literary world. He experimented with more or less traditional approaches to reality, so that "the most frightful, the most unusual things are told with the deadpan expression." A commonly cited example is the physical and spiritual ascending into heaven of a character while she is hanging the laundry out to dry in One Hundred Years of Solitude. García Márquez is now considered one of the most significant authors of the twentieth century, as is attested by his winning the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Mario Vargas Llosa is a Peruvian novelist, short story writer, playwright, journalist and literary and political critic. He attended Lima's University of San Marcos and subsequently attained a doctorate in Latin American literature in Spain. His thesis was on Gabriel García Márquez. He shot to fame with his novel The Time of the Hero (1963), a scathing indictment of cruelty and corruption in a Peruvian military academy (and, by implication, in Peruvian society).
Vargas Llosa also wrote The Green House (1966), the epic Conversation in the Cathedral (1969), Captain Pantoja and the Special Service (1973), and post-Boom novels such as Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977). Vargas Llosa returned to Lima in 2000, following the resignation of President Fujimori who won the 1990 Peruvian election, beating Vargas Llosa.
Several other writers have been associated with the Boom. Juan Rulfo, the author of two books, only one of them a novel, was the acknowledged master incorporated a posteriori; a writer who balances social concern, verbal experimentation and unique style. Augusto Roa Bastos of Paraguay, wrote Hijo de hombre, considered by some to be the first novel of the Boom. His highly experimental I, the Supreme has been compared to Joyce's Ulysses and is "one of the most highly regarded works of fictional history to ever come out of South America." Manuel Puig, an Argentine, is a central figure, along with Vargas Llosa, of the Seix-Barral publishing world. José Donoso is a Chilean writer of both the Boom and the post-Boom. In his book, Historia Personal del "Boom", Donoso also mentions other writers associated with the movement. Examples are Jorge Amado of Brazil, Salvador Garmendia and Adriano González León of Venezuela and David Viñas of Argentina, among many others.
Publishing played a crucial role in the advent of the Boom. Major publishing houses based in Havana, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Asunción or Santiago were responsible for publishing most of the Boom novels, and these cities became strong centers of cultural innovation.
It should be noted, however, that this period saw the publishing of Boom novels in Barcelona, reflecting the new interest of Spanish publishing houses in the Spanish American market. However, as Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola notes, the revenue generated by the publishing of these novels gave a boost to the Spanish economy, even as the works were subjected to Franco's censors. Some of the Seix Barral-published novels include Mario Vargas Llosa's The Time of the Hero (1963) and his Captain Pantoja and the Special Service (1973), and Manuel Puig's Betrayed by Rita Hayworth (1971). A crucial figure "in the promotion of Latin American literature in Spain," (and elsewhere) was the "super-agent" Carmen Balcells, whom Vargas Llosa referred to as "The Big Mama of the Latin American novel."
A common criticism of the Boom is that it is too experimental and has a "tendency toward elitism." In his study of the Post-Boom Donald L. Shaw writes that Mario Benedetti was very critical of Boom writers like García Márquez who, in Benedetti's view, "represent a privileged class that had access to universal culture and were thus utterly unrepresentative of average people in Latin America." In his article on Donoso's break from the Boom Philip Swanson articulates another critique of the "new novel" (i.e., Boom novel): "Though [it] was essentially a reaction against a perceived staleness in conventional realism, many of the formal experiments and innovations of modern fiction have themselves become standardized features of modern writing, leading to another form of traditionalism where one set of stereotypes has been replaced with another." Another common criticism is the Boom's emphasis on masculinity; all the movement's representatives were male and the treatment of female characters within the novels is sometimes disparaged. The Boom fiction's emphasis on history and the fantastic has also been the subject of criticism as it was claimed that it is too removed from the realities of Latin American political situations that it criticized.
"Latin American novelists became world famous through their writing and their advocacy of political and social action, and because many of them had the good fortune to reach markets and audiences beyond Latin America through translation and travel—and sometimes through exile."
"It is no exaggeration," critic Gerald Martin writes, "to state that if the Southern continent was known for two things above all others in the 1960s, these were, first and foremost, the Cuban Revolution and its impact both on Latin America and the Third World generally, and secondly, the Boom in Latin American fiction, whose rise and fall coincided with the rise and fall of liberal perceptions of Cuba between 1959 and 1971."
The Boom had an immediate impact as it changed the way Latin American culture was viewed around the world. The commercial success of the Boom writers had the effect of elevating them almost to rock star status in Latin America. Of course, translation played a major role in the success of the Boom writers because it gave them a much larger audience. These authors continued to produce best-sellers for four decades. In addition, the Boom opened the door for new Latin American writers in terms of the international scene. A testimony to the Boom's global impact is the fact that "up-and-coming international writers" look upon the likes of Fuentes, García Márquez or Vargas Llosa as their mentors.
Since the 1980s it has become common to speak of Post-Boom writers, most of whom were born during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. It is difficult to clearly situate the Post-Boom as many of its writers were active before the end of the Boom. Indeed, some writers, like Jose Donoso could be said to belong to both movements. His novel The Obscene Bird of the Night (1970) is considered, as Philip Swanson notes, "one of the classics of the Boom." His later work, however, fits more comfortably into the post-Boom. Manuel Puig and Severo Sarduy are considered writers whose works embody the transition from the Boom to the Post-Boom. This uneasiness in categorization is perpetuated by the fact that major writers of the Boom (Fuentes, García Márquez and Vargas Llosa) continued writing well after the end of the Boom. The post-Boom is distinct from the Boom in various respects, most notably in the presence of female authors such as Isabel Allende, Luisa Valenzuela and Elena Poniatowska. While Valenzuela and Poniatowska were both active writers during the Boom period, Allende is considered "a product of the Boom." Shaw also identifies Antonio Skarmeta, Rosario Ferre and Gustavo Sainz as Post-Boom writers. The Post-Boom writers challenge the perceived elitism of the Boom by using a simpler, more readable style and going back to realism.
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