- El arte de ficcionar: la novela contemporánea en Centroamérica by Alexandra Ortiz Wallner
Yajaira M. Padilla, Alexandra Ortiz Wallner, Contemporary Novels, Central America, Cultural Chronology
Alexandra Ortiz Wallner’s El arte de ficcionar: la novela contemporánea en Centroamérica is a welcome addition to a growing body of criticism by scholars residing in Central America, Europe, and the United States on contemporary Central American literature generated since the mid-2000s. As with many of these works—notable examples of which include Taking Their Word: Literature and the Signs of Central America (2007) by Arturo Arias, and Estética del cinismo: pasión y desencanto en la literatura centroamericana de posguerra (2010) by Beatriz Cortez— Ortiz Wallner’s monograph centers primarily on fiction, specifically novels, produced in what has been termed the “postwar period” in Central America, a period initiated in the 1990s with the end of the revolutionary struggles waged in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Two major factors set Ortiz Wallner’s critical inquiry apart from these others, however. First, she offers an expanded view of the novelistic production of this era. Her study encompasses seventeen novels produced between 1985 and 2005 by authors from five of the seven Central American countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Belize. Second, she focuses on literary historiography.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Ortiz Wallner’s study is the “cultural chronology” she proposes as part of her approach to the novels in question. As [End Page 107] noted in the introduction, Ortiz Wallner’s categorization of these texts is not necessarily based on a temporal or historical delineation, but rather on a set of common themes and narrative innovations she regards as relevant and representative of the novelistic production of the period as a whole. This notion of a socioculturally based chronology speaks to what is the larger aim of Ortiz Wallner’s study, which is to posit an alternate systematization of and means of reading these newer works of Central American fiction from a comparative perspective. Arguably the book’s most original contribution to the field of Central American literary studies, this new practice of literary historiography is in keeping with the distinct global nature of Central American literature at the end of the 20th and start of the 21st century, as well as with broader conceptualizations of Central America as a regional entity that remains cohesive in its diversity. In essence, Ortiz Wallner problematizes Central America’s tradition of literary historiography, while also proposing a new methodology for it.
The main body of El arte de ficcionar is divided into three parts that afford a better understanding of the critical dimensions and possibilities of such a methodology. In the first part, aptly titled “Deslindes,” Ortiz Wallner outlines or demarcates two preliminary arguments that help to contextualize the need for a new practice of literary historiography in Central America. The first argument posits that contemporary Central American literature lacks a “fixed residence.” It is a mobile literature (ever more so in this current phase of globalization) characterized by instability and multiple temporalities. The second advocates for a conceptualization of Central America as a cultural-linguistic-literary region within which the local, the national, the international, the transnational, and the transareal (Ortiz Wallner’s own term) coexist in a continuous state of flux. Both of these arguments provide a solid foundation for Ortiz Wallner’s claim that the novelistic production of the postwar period cannot be read solely through the optic of the national, as has been the tendency in traditional literary histories. It needs to be viewed through a global lens.
Having established this basis for her broader argument concerning the need for analyzing postwar fiction and doing literary history in Central America differently, Ortiz Wallner moves on in the second part of the book, “Fisuras,” to a discussion of the political, social, and aesthetic traits that distinguish the novelistic production of the postwar period from that of previous years. Postwar novels, as Ortiz Wallner suggests...