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Reviewed by:
Seymour Menton. Latin America’s New Historical Novel. Austin: U of Texas P, 1993. 228 pp. No price given.

Latin America’s New Historical Novel could be considered to be a useful book for the undergraduate and master-level classroom since it provides an exceptional bibliographic chronology of the Latin American Historical Novel dating from 1949 to 1992 (including the subgenre that the author terms the “New Historical Novel”); it provides, as well, extensive character readings and plot summaries of a wide selection of narratives that could be helpful to a casual or initiate reader of Latin American narrative interested in familiarizing him/herself with the Historical Novel in Latin America.

As an example of Latinamericanist critical practice, however, Latin America’s New Historical Novel is somewhat disappointing. The underlying impulse of Latin America’s New Historical Novel, it would appear, is twofold: on the one hand, the book marks an implicit lament for the loss of the Latin American boom aesthetic of the 1960’s and, on the other hand, an attempt to revalidate the lost object by arguing the case for the canonization of a contemporary boom of novelistic production that is presented as the inheritor of the 1960’s “tradition”: the “New Historical Novel”.

Unfortunately, any reader interested in identifying the parameters of a possible post-boom boom in Latin American novelistic production will be disappointed by this book since it tends, rather, to reveal the problematic nature of a critical venture designed to delineate dominant [End Page 872] literary trends precisely at a time in which the singularity of dominant trends in Latin American literature, and in Latin American cultural production as a whole, has collapsed, and in particular in which the boom aesthetic and its ideas on the literary as a means and manifestation of Latin American knowledge production, are becoming increasingly derelict for the contemporary analysis, interpretation, and understanding of Latin American cultural formations. As a result of Latin America’s New Historical Novel’s overriding desire for canonization, apparently at all costs, the book tends to fall into the symptomatic revelation of its own self-imposed conceptual confinement.

For Menton the “New Historical Novel” is the inheritor of the Latin American boom’s muralistic scope, exuberant eroticism and complex, neobaroque (albeit less hermetic) structural and linguistic experimentation, witnessed by a generalized emphasis on what he terms the novel’s “metafictionality,” “intertextuality” and “carnivalesque” characters. As a result of these properties, however, García-Márquez’s El general en su laberinto, to name just one example, is discarded as a “New Historical Novel” on the grounds that it is the re-creation of a specific period with relatively few characters, that tends to avoid exuberant experimentation. Thus, in spite of Menton’s characterization of the “New Historical Novel” as a narrative whose action takes place completely (and in some cases, predominantly) in the past—arbitrarily defined as a past not directly experienced by the author—the problematization of a single historical figure such as Bolivar does not serve for inclusion into the canonization of this subgenre. Indeed, the book’s stifling production of exclusionary criteria, systematically implemented in such a way as to homogenize what is ultimately a highly complex and heterogeneous corpus of narratives, leads to mass elimination on apparently arbitrary grounds. Thus, Alejo Carpentier’s El recurso del metodo and La consagracion de la primavera are excluded from analysis, and presumably from any possibility of pertaining to a “dominant trend,” because they do not conform to the author’s definition of the historical novel since they present events concurrent with the author’s own life. Obviously, if the reader follows this logic, then we are confronted with a problematic critical practice in which lived experience cannot be an experience of the historical, nor of historicity, and novelistic production such as that of the Southern Cone post-dictatorship novel (Miguel Bonasso, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Diamela Eltit, to name just a few), or the production of testimonial [End Page 873] narratives over the last fifteen years or so in the Southern Cone and in Central America, are excluded from the contemporary reevaluation and problematization of historical discourse...

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