Willy Óscar Muñoz has published widely about Latin American literature and theater, particularly on works produced by women in his native Bolivia. Territorios, razas y etnias en la novela boliviana forms part of a larger systematic study of classical Bolivian novels. This book offers a critical study of a number of major and less well-known novels, arranged chronologically, from Wata Wara (1904) by Alcides Arguedas to Yanakuna (1952) by Jesús Lara. During the first half of the twentieth century, Bolivia’s vast and varied regions were mostly traversed by mule or horseback. Bolivia’s ethnic and cultural variability is well represented in Muñoz’s selections. These two conditions—environmental and cultural variability—together form the warp and weft of the book’s theoretical fabric. The journey from one setting to another, from one landscape to another, and from one novel to another, is the central theme woven throughout each chapter, albeit more strongly in some chapters than in others.
Bolivia’s cultural diversity is the first theme that Muñoz develops through his analyses of the racial struggles of the novels’ characters. Collectively, the chapters trace Bolivia’s national journey of becoming through this racial theme during those critical decades preceding the 1952 National Revolution. The relationships between the novels’ characters and those they encounter in their journeys are situated in those decades’ racial struggles in the Andes. In Wata Wara, the racial other is subjected to violence and exploitation, while the implied ownership over indigenous peoples is keenly realized in Yanakuna, published just before the 1952 revolution. The problems (or opportunities) associated with mestizaje during this period are explored in several selections, such as Antonio Díaz Villamil’s La niña de sus ojos (1946). Thus race, indigeneity, inclusion/exclusion, violence, and nationalism are intertwined in Muñoz’s analyses of selected literary works.
Muñoz’s analyses highlight Bolivia’s vast and highly diverse natural environments, the book’s second thematic focus. This variability is especially evident in the contrasts presented by Jaime Mendoza’s (1911) En las tierras del Potosí (featuring a journey from Sucre to the southern altiplano mines), Diómedes de Pereyra’s (1928) El valle del sol (in the Amazonian lowlands), and Adolfo Costa Du Rel’s (1940) Tierras hechizadas (in the Chaco). These novels’ characters “marchan por territorios desconocidos por ellos . . . [creando] una conciencia de la heterogeneidad de los habitantes que existen en un territorio de profundos contrastes geográficos, territorialización que también pone de manifesto la fragmentación sociopolítica nacional” (16). For readers familiar with Bolivia’s diverse landscapes and cultures, the passages Muñoz quotes will evoke a strong sense of familiarity, despite the novels’ original publication over sixty years ago. For those who have not travelled there, the novels’ themes of race, the struggles to (re)create a nation in the collective consciousness, and the role of literature in larger sociopolitical contexts will resonate.
This book will be of interest to scholars of race, nationalism, and the environment in Latin American literature. Coupled with selections from the eight novels highlighted, it would be a useful text (in whole or in part) in advanced undergraduate or graduate-level courses in Andean or indigenous literature. Muñoz’s introduction offers a useful exploration of the ideas illustrated in subsequent chapters, which need not be read in sequence to appreciate the author’s project. Although the book unfortunately does not have a concluding chapter to revisit and problematize its central themes, the larger project of offering one well-respected literary scholar’s views on an important period in Bolivia’s literary corpus is a worthy one indeed. [End Page 327]