The five main chapters of Wilfrido Corral's study of the Latin American novel, its history, and its historiography, combine a central interest in the novel as a genre and how critics and writers — who are sometimes the same people — have defined it in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Following the first chapter's discussion of Angel Rama's 1964 essay, "Diez problemas para el novelista latinoamericano," the next three chapters focus on, respectively, Humberto Salvador and Pablo Palacios, Julio Cortazar and Mario Vargas Llosa, and Carlos Fuentes. The fifth chapter analyzes the total novel, both as a living novelistic tradition and a literary critical category. Corral's book's aim is to address what it presents as serious flaws in the critical reception of the Latin American novel, particularly regarding its periodization, classification, and analysis in what Corral designates as the anglo-saxon critical sphere. Of special import to Corral's argument are the two commonplaces — deservedly and persuasively delegitimized by Corral — that the Latin American novelistic [End Page 172] tradition is somehow by nature different from a broader ("occidental" in Corral's figuration) tradition, and that the Latin American literary "Boom" is accurately considered a dividing line that marks a clearly discernible turning point in the Latin American novel's history.
Corral's book takes on these commonplaces most effectively by proceeding along two methodological paths. The first is a recuperation of lesser-known novelists, including the aforementioned Salvador and Palacios, as well as, among others, Jose Isaac de Diego Padro and Miguel Gutierrez. The second is an investigation into the ways that a single writer's fiction and non-fiction publications complement or contradict one another, an investigation whose results are the most significant strength of Corral's book. For example, the discussion of Cortázar's and Vargas Llosa's essays and journalistic work considers a massive quantity of texts in order to shed new light on not only the history of the Boom (most notably the Padilla affair and its consequences) but also on the historiography of the Boom, which has often simplified the works, political positions, and professional trajectories of those associated with it. Furthermore, Corral's book's analysis of Carlos Fuentes's literary criticism and its relation to worldwide literary and critical traditions provides a valuable insight into the way in which the act of writing is shaped by geopolitical asymmetries, the capricious nature of literary canons, and the author's desire for an audience, which includes not only general readers, but also critics and other writers.
Like the chapter about Salvador and Palacios, the opening discussion of Rama's essay represents an effort at recuperation since it brings to the fore the validity of a nearly fifty-year-old text that has been overshadowed by the prominence of its author's later works, such as Transculturación narrativa en América Latina (1982) and La ciudad letrada (1984). Particularly important for Corral's book are Rama's emphases on the dialectic of the autochthonous and the cosmopolitan that has left its mark on Latin American literature and the criticism about it, and on the constantly changing nature of the novel as a genre. While the analysis of Rama's text is thorough and insightful, a sustained return to Rama's text in the book's later chapters would lend greater coherence to Cartografía occidental, keeping it from reading somewhat like an anthology.
The main goal of Corral's work, to challenge the notion that the Latin American novel has at some point and somehow been separate from the "occidental" literary tradition, is admirable and salutary. For the most part the book achieves this goal, especially in the chapter on Salvador and Palacios, which considers writers whose texts pre-date the Boom, in some cases by decades, and that exhibit traits and topics erroneously thought to originate with the Boom; and in the chapter on the total novel, which also dissociates a particular literary phenomenon from a simplistic and exaggerated reading of the Boom and...