Latin American Literature, Post-Gabo

April 5, 2009

Now that García Márquez has allegedly (again) announced his retirement from literature, there have been a number of articles pondering what the Colombian writer’s departure might mean for Latin American literature. In The Guardian‘s book blog, Maya Jaggi hypothesizes that his exit stage-left will offer more visibility to other Latin American writers.

A professor in Spain told me that García Márquez once said his success had ruined Colombian literature, meaning, presumably, that it was difficult to get published unless an author was producing something García Márquez-esque, something grand and brutal and mysterious, and that all Colombian literature was measured against his. Jaggi herself notes,

As I was told by Jorge Franco, a lyrical “narco-realist” from Medellín to whom García Márquez has said he would like to pass the torch, for years publishers wanted flying grandmothers ­ no matter that the time of cholera had given way to epidemics of drug-cartel violence, with civilians caught in the crossfire between guerrillas, army and paramilitaries.

García Márquez’s outsize prominence in Latin American literature spilled over into Latin American literature in translation, as well. Jaggi suggests that with Gabo retired, a new generation of Colombian writers, many of them already beginning to appear in translation, will gain recognition in the international literary scene. I don’t know how much I buy this argument. It often seems that we’re most comfortable only knowing a couple of names from a given international literature — quick, name a Peruvian besides Mario Vargas Llosa, or a Chilean who’s not Pablo Neruda or Isabel Allende . . . or the suddenly omnipresent Roberto Bolaño. It seems entirely plausible to me that new writers will emerge as the literary lions of the ’60s Boom step down, but I’m not convinced the old guard will be replaced by a greater number of writers.

Still, as Jaggi points out, two Colombian novels were on the shortlist for the Independent foreign fiction prize, so maybe space is opening up. As someone who’s translated some Colombians myself, I certainly have my fingers crossed. Jaggi’s post names a few authors to look out for in the post-Gabo era. Of course, in keeping with the hubbub over Aviya Kushner’s “McCulture” piece a couple of months ago, however, more and more “Latin American” literature  is actually being written originally in English (Daniel Alarcón, Junot Díaz, let alone all the Latin-American and Chicano writers), so I may be out of luck anyway.

-ar

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