- Reviewed by
One of the results of Gabriel García Márquez's Nobel prize in literature is a renewed interest in Colombia's cultural and political history, with intense attention being paid to the period of la violencia, the scenario of political in-fighting ushered in by the civil war of 1899-1902 and continuing even to the present day with only periods of respite during its course. The two books reviewed herein focus on la violencia as they seek to elucidate the cultural milieu that serves as a background to the literary production of a group of Afro-Colombian writers and of García Márquez.
In Treading the Ebony Path: Ideology and Violence in Contemporary Afro-Colombian Prose Fiction, Marvin A. Lewis presents an apology for a critical assessment of certain Afro-Colombian writers in terms of "the importance of their ethnic backgrounds in the development of their literary creations and in the manner in which they relate to Colombian society." Lewis grounds his: ethnic and sociological approach on hypotheses formulated by Terry Eagleton and Raymond Williams about Marxism and ideology. In order to take into account la violencia in Colombian history, he employs two of Ariel Dorfman's four categories of violence in America.
Lewis' study, Treading the Ebony Path, takes its name from one of Juan Zapata [End Page 658] Olivella's novels, the latter being a literary journey during which the protagonist shares with the reader his opinions about all he experiences. In spite of providing the study's title, Zapata Olivella's novel receives the least critical attention of the books considered. The latter include: No es la muerte, es el morir by Jorge Artel; Las estrellas son negras and La selva y la lluvia by Arnoldo Palacios; Granizada y otros cuentos and El día que terminó el verano y otros cuentos by Carlos Arturo Truque; Historia de un joven negro and Pisando el camino de ébano by Juan Zapata Olivella; Tierra mojada, La calle 10, Cuentos de muerte y liberlad, Corral de negros, Detrás del rostro, En Chimá nace un santo, Changó el gran putas, and El fusilamiento del diablo by Manuel Zapata Olivella. Such a long list of works is difficult to study critically in 123 pages of text. Therefore, Lewis' work remains sketchy, and he often offers conclusions unsubstantiated textually. This sketchiness coupled with unfounded conclusions and Lewis' own prose style make the volume read more like a series of conference papers than a well-integrated work of research. A rather large number of typographical errors also detract from the text.
In regard to Lewis' hypothesis that an Afro-Colombian writer's work should be studied in light of the writer's ethnicity, Lewis himself admits in his concluding chapter—and it is clear as well from reading his synopses of the works under consideration—that this group of works does not reflect a common concern with the idea of negritude. However, Lewis assumes that the novelist's self-perception informs his work. The latter assumption may be correct. Nevertheless, Lewis studies this body of literature as social document, almost to the exclusion of literary value, thereby coming dangerously close to reducing Afro-Colombian writers to panfletistas, writers of political propaganda. Lewis does attempt a rudimentary and unsatisfactory literary analysis of each work by discussing the struggle between form and content while omitting a theoretical textual explication. Although Lewis is to be commended for having suggested alternative perspectives for studying the Afro-Colombian novel, the present volume can at best be considered a tenuous beginning.
Stephen Minta's García Márquez: Writer of Colombia offers the non-Spanish-reading public an introduction to both García Márquez and his country. Minta succeeds in situating the Nobel laureate within his own cultural and political milieu and in identifying and tracing vital elements of the latter in the García M...