Colonial Latin American Literature: A Very Short Introduction by Rolena Adorno, Modern Latin American Literature: A Very Short Introduction by Roberto González Echevarría (review)
- The Latin Americanist
- The University of North Carolina Press
- Volume 56, Number 3, September 2012
- pp. 101-103
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS COLONIAL LATIN AMERICAN LITERATURE: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION. By Rolena Adorno. New York: Oxford UP, 2011, 148 pp., $11.95.MODERN LATIN AMERICAN LITERATURE: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION. By Roberto González Echevarrı́a. New York: Oxford UP, 2011, 132 pp., $11.95. Oxford University Press has, to date, published some three hundred titles in its “Very Short Introduction” series. These slender, compact volumes covering a broad range of subjects in history, philosophy, religion, science, and the humanities offer authoritative discussions for those seeking to quickly acquire reliable, up-to-date information about unfamiliar topics. While the brief format precludes expansive coverage, these handy overviews do allow for some degree of analysis. Like the other titles in the series, these two are ostensibly intended for the neophyte, but established scholars will also find several appealing aspects, especially the bibliographies and the authors’ bold, insightful readings. In her study Adorno views the long Colonial period in terms of a trope she calls the “polemics of possession,” a subject she examined thoroughly in her excellent book of the same name published in 2007. This notion has to do with the “taking possession of authority” (6), which she illustrates in the chapter on the chroniclers and how they viewed Columbus’s enterprise. It is also the focal point of the chapter on the clashing ideologies of Oviedo and Las Casas, which led to the 1550 debate in Valladolid on the legitimacy of the conquest, with Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda seeking to justify Spanish imperialism and Las Casas speaking in defense of the indigenous peoples. For Adorno, the question of political possession dominated the sixteenth century, just as the issue of cultural possession consumed the seventeenth. During the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth political matters once again moved to the forefront amidst the clamor for independence. Finally, in the nineteenth century the prime concern became the possession of the Spanish language. Adorno’s dilemma is how to include and do justice to pre-Colombian literature and still have space within the confines of the volume to discuss canonical writers. She solves this skillfully by limiting coverage of indigenous literature while at the same time stressing the contributions of writers such as the Inca Garcilaso and Guaman Poma, both of whom focused on indigenous culture. González Echevarrı́a’s task is equally daunting: how to present the sweeping literary panorama of Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America and the proliferation of writers in this region who have appeared over the last two hundred years, and accomplish all of this in about 125 pages. This “exercise in conciseness” (xv) has resulted C 2012 Southeastern Council on Latin American Studies and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 101 The Latin Americanist, September 2012 predictably in some exclusions, but the author’s engaging commentary more than compensates for what has been left unsaid. In his view, the predominant thematic, which came to be depicted as a struggle between civilization and barbarism, originated with Bolı́var rather than Sarmiento. Ever since the Liberator’s questioning of what it meant to be a New World European in a land ignorant of Old World values writers have had to come to terms with this opposition and its impact on the forging of a Latin American identity. González Echevarrı́a’s assessments are provocative and brimming with superlatives. For example, he refers to “El matadero” as “perhaps the best piece of politically inspired fiction ever written in Latin America” (37), and Sarmiento’s Facundo as “the most important book ever authored by a Latin American” (37). Likewise, he finds Ariel to be “the most influential Latin American essay ever published” (48) and calls “España, aparta de mı́ este cáliz” by César Vallejo “the most powerful, poignant, beautiful political poetry in the Spanish language” (66). In a similar vein, he labels Paz’s El arco y la lira “the most sophisticated statement in Spanish on [poetic theory]” (76) and asserts that “Los de abajo, together with Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, are the best Mexican novels of all time and among the best from Latin America” (90). Some scholars will undoubtedly quibble over...