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Reviewed by:
  • Proust's Latin Americans by Rubén Gallo
  • Charlotte Rogers (bio)
Proust's Latin Americans. By Rubén Gallo. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014. 261 pp. $45.00.

Proust's Latin Americans is an insightful and clearly written study that merges biography, cultural history, and literary analysis to explore the presence of Latin American men in Marcel Proust's life and work. Rubén Gallo reveals that the author of In Search of Lost Time knew several cosmopolitan men of Hispanic origin, all long-time residents of France: Reynaldo Hahn, the Venezuelan composer who became Proust's first boyfriend; Gabriel de Yturri, [End Page 256] an Argentine of modest background who served as the secretary and lover to the extravagant Count Robert de Montequiou; José-Maria de Heredia, a Cuban-born poet whom Proust met and sought to emulate in his early work; and Ramon Fernandez, the literary critic born in Mexico who knew Proust late in the novelist's life. Each of the book's four chapters is dedicated to one of these men and offers a biographical sketch, a close reading of his correspondence with Proust, and an analysis of the role he played in Proust's literary and personal life. The major chapters are interspersed with vignettes that Gallo inventively calls "paperolles," the French word for strips of paper that Proust glued into his notebooks to extend their pages and make room for his frequent revisions and additions. These four brief paperolles explore tangential themes: Proust's trading (and huge losses) in Mexican stocks; a nameless Peruvian character in In Search of Lost Time; the artist Antonio de La Gandra, a Parisian of Mexican heritage who painted Proust's Spanish-speaking friends; and the single discussion of the Spanish language in all of Proust's work.

The Introduction to the book lays out a compelling case for why we should study these relatively minor figures in Proust's life. First, Gallo argues that Proust and these men share the experience of being outsiders in the aristocratic salons of Paris: "as a neurotic, homosexual, hypochondriac, Jewish bourgeouis, [Proust] was as foreign in the salons as the Norweigan philospher at Madame Verdurin's dinner party" (5). He compares this sense of alterity to the challenges faced by Latin Americans in French society, which demanded and simultaneously negated their assimilation. Another reason to focus on these Latin American men, Gallo argues, is that the enormous corpus of Proustian scholarship has neglected the image of the foreigner in the novelist's life and work. Depictions of Latin Americans in French literature in the nineteenth century engage in many hackneyed stereotypes, as the Introduction's brief overview of the subject demonstrates. One derogatory term denoting vulgar yet wealthy Latin Americans in Paris was "rastaquouère." The word derives from the Spanish expression used by leather merchants "rasca cueros" or "arrastra cueros." Rubén Darío, Gallo tells us, wrote that the term referred to a person with "a lack of culture: or, to be more precise, the lack of good taste" (3). Gallo's examination of this term and its representation in the literature of the era is meticulously researched and sensitively written. Moreover, his deep study of the sophisticated and polylingual Latin Americans living in Paris at the time offers a corrective perspective to the pejorative stereotype of the profligate, hot-tempered, and hyper-sexed South American abroad. A final justification for Gallo's transatlantic approach to Proust and Latin America lies in its reconciliation of what can be seen as an [End Page 257] antagonistic relationship between European canonical texts and what is now called "world literature." Gallo argues that his work exemplifies the benefits of reading traditionally canonical works, such as In Search of Lost Time, "alongside authors from non-European traditions and to think of this relationship as one of complementarity rather than one of opposition" (20). The individuals and works discussed are as varied as Latin America itself, thus illustrating not so much their influence on Proust's work as the pull of Paris on artistic Latin Americans, long before twentieth-century authors like Alejo Carpentier, Miguel Angel Asturias, and Severo Sarduy took...


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pp. 256-260
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