In other words, I didn't get it, but for the most part, I loved it. If anyone reading this can tell me what the hell the last 100 pages were about, I would be most appreciative.
On a lazy, rainy Sunday in London, I decided to take the tube to St Pancras, buy a book and read it over a cup of coffee. I went into Hatchards planning to get Possession by A.S. Byatt, which was sold out. Instead I bought The Alchemist and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. I read a few pages, switched to Leaves of Grass and, save for an attempt or two, did not feel any inclination to pick it up for four months.
It took me over four months to finish this 160 page legend. That about says enough I believe. I did not like the writing style, the overal tone of the book, the characterisation. I almost feel as if I have somehow missed the entire point of this book, why everyone thinks it is so wonderful. I cannot put my finger on what it was specifically. Almost wished I just got it from the library. Shame really, but that goes to show; reputation is not everything.
Writing this review is gonna be a nightmare—with inserting all the diacritical marks into a Word doc., pasting, checking, doing it over… Reading it will, likely, be worse.
Now I ask you. Wait. Not quite now. First, I need to climb down under the desk, somewhere safe and protected.
NOW, I ask you: Who has not opened an Introduction to Literature or some other literature survey tome, of any stripe or region, knowing that it will deal predominately with one’s own interest, Literary Fiction, only to find nearly half of said introduction or survey taken up with something called Poetry? I mean really. Who would see something like that coming? Who knew?Apparently, not I. Now for those of you who wouldn’t be surprised by said inclusion (I’m still under the desk, no need to throw anything) , MLAL takes on the scope of Latin American poetry with what would seem to be an authoritative and informed perspective and covers it nicely. Nicely, in this case meaning that Poetry doesn’t take three-quarters of this slim volume. All the familiars are there: Darío, Martí, Neruda, Borges, Paz, etc., plus plenty of less familiar names which should probably be better known. Fans of Wittgenstein’s Mistress who want to know more about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, see pages 20 and 78. And even non-poetry fans must want to read Nicanor Parra after saying the name aloud. Say it with me now: Nic-a-nor Parrrrrrrrrrrrra. And with a title like: Antipoems: How to Look Better and Feel Great how could you go wrong?
So, now out-from-under the desk. When it comes to more familiar ground, Literary Fiction, my interest is pricked, so to speak. The chapter on 19th century Latin American prose, that which must be regarded as foundational, left me humbled; I don’t think I’d heard of any them—authors to be pursued include: José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi (author of what some consider the first Latin American novel: The Itching Parrot), Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, et al., a humbling chronicle of my ignorance. But with 20th century literature, the familiarity grows. The author provides brief biographies and synopses of works of Paz, Borges, Onetti, Cortázar, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, García Márquez (the usual suspects), as well as authors known to varying degrees: Puig, Carpentier, Cabrera Infante, Lezama, et al., authors who’ll keep me going well into the foreseeable future. It’s not until one arrives at contemporary Latin American fiction that one suspects this Very Short Introduction is something liberated from one of the author’s previous surveys/introductions. Among a very few contemporary authors, only two ring any bells: Roberto Bolaño and Fernando Vallejo (whom he calls “the best two contemporary novelists”) and mentions briefly The Savage Detectives and By Night in Chile (Bolaño) and Our Lady of the Assassins (Vallejo) [both Bolaños got 5 stars from me, Vallejo got 4—can’t win ‘em all].Conspicuous absentees: Adlofo Bioy Casares, César Aira, Macedonio Fernandez, Machado de Assis, and Pedro Lemebel. He does cite several women authors and seems to have made an effort at including every Latin American nation.
He also describes how Romanticism and Realism played out in Latin American writing, yielding to something called costumbrismo (a regional blend of Romanticism and Realism), modernismo vs. Modernism, Magical Realism and recent reaction to it—especially from Bolaño—the Boom, and newer movements: MacOndo and Crack.
All-in-all, a pretty good introduction for anyone interested.