restricted access Twentieth-Century Spanish American Fiction (review)
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Reviewed by
Naomi Lindstrom. Twentieth-Century Spanish American Fiction. Austin: U of Texas P, 1994. 246 pp.

This book begins with what for all purposes is a commendable project: “to orient readers, especially English-language readers to the principal tendencies, texts, and writers of twentieth-century Spanish American narrative, and to convey why they are held to be so major and significant.” Given the abundance and variety of the literature produced in the Continent during the period encompassed by the study, it is almost too easy to argue that this or that author or work was excluded, or that too much prominence was accorded to a given tendency or movement. Such an evaluation of the book would also leave unexamined all of its major assumptions, which come through clearly even in the short quotation cited above. There is the question of the monograph’s intended audience—“especially English language readers”—but there is also the related issue of the location from which the works and authors featured in the book “are held to be so major and significant.” Presumably the author is referring here to critical appreciations and rankings made by scholars writing within the field of Hispanic literature, as well as to the publishing success achieved by a number of works in their native countries. Hence, the book opens with the assumption of an inside/outside professional and cultural boundary that it will then attempt to bridge. The difficulty is that, in the context of Spanish American literature, these sorts of border determinations are not as clear and unproblematic as the statement would have them be.

As a literature produced within a neocolonial circumstance, Spanish American literature has been fashioned from its beginnings in the nineteenth century with an eye fixed on its assumed European and, [End Page 173] later, American audiences. Conversely, more recent phenomena such as the so-called Boom show the distortions created when, in turn, that intended market subtly imposes its own conceptions regarding the specific characteristics of that literature. The fact that “magical realism” is still widely regarded as synonymous with Spanish American literature in American academic circles is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of that skewed perspective. Therefore, one could say that Spanish American literature has been produced within the space delimited by that back-and-forth movement between what its producers believe will play well with a metropolitan audience (and its local surrogate), and the particular image which that audience reflects back to the Spanish American author. Hence, the attempt to offer academic outsiders an account of Spanish American literature—the avowed purpose of Twentieth-Century Spanish American Fiction—is the professional manifestation of a desire that has been an integral part of the literature under scrutiny all along. This is why, for instance, the book takes as its arbitrary point of departure the date of 1900, since the author deems that the putative reader will mostly be interested in twentieth-century prose developments in Spanish America; that is, those works that can in one way or another “explain” the Boom (the reason that reader is probably interested in the subject in the first place). This decision “creates” the book; but it also violently cleaves the subject from its nineteenth-century past. All of this is by way of arguing that to write a book whose express aim is to give nonspecialists in American academia a panoramic view of our object of study can never be the straightforward enterprise that this monograph would propose. Professor Lindstrom is not unaware of some of these issues, as she shows in several passing comments; but had they been allowed to surface fully, the book’s project would have been thoroughly compromised.

There is, furthermore, the issue of timing. This book proposes to give a comprehensive sense of our field and its object at the precise time in which both have lost their anchoring categories and ideological underpinnings. This is the reason why there is an inescapably nostalgic tone to Twentieth-Century Spanish American Fiction, even if its author never intended that impression to be conveyed. The account of the progressive building of an expansive edifice of letters that this book wishes to...