From Gabriel García Márquez to Mario Vargas Llosa, Latin American writers have been celebrated worldwide. But the 1960s "boom" has bust. Richard Gott explains why the Latin American novelist ran out of steamby Richard Gott / January 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Everyone knows that there was once a Latin American “boom” in the writing of fiction. The names of Gabriel García Márquez (who was born in 1928) and Mario Vargas Llosa (born in 1936) are still dropped into the conversation whenever world literature in the second half of the 20th century is discussed. At least half a dozen other names could be bravely mentioned: Julio Cort?r (b.1914), Carlos Fuentes (b.1928), and Augusto Roa Bastos (b.1917) among them. European publishers have long lived in hope that other such jewels might yet be picked up in the desert.
What is less well known outside specialist circles (perhaps because of time and distance) is that the “boom” began and ended rather a long time ago. Cortazar is long dead, and most of the others are over 60. The “boom” occurred at a specific moment in the history of Latin America, in the 1960s.
It was the literary equivalent of the Cuban Revolution of 1959; it sprang out of the atmosphere of optimism and hope which that revolution itself created. Castro himself, born in 1926, is at least an honorary member of the “boom” generation, a man to whom García Márquez always has privileged access. Cuba and Fidel put Latin America on the map, and a generation of Latin American writers stood ready to celebrate their continent’s coming of age.
Their fiction dazzled and bewitched. With immense powers of imagination and of language, they could draw on half a century of previous experiment and endeavour. With the time-lag inherent in Latin American culture since colonial days, they built on the Joycean Modernism of the 1920s which had all but disappeared in Europe by the 1960s. Even in translation (García Márquez had superb translators in Gregory Rabassa and Edith Grossmann, to whom readers in the English-speaking world are forever indebted), their unusual quality shone through. One Hundred Years of Solitude, first published in 1967 and so apparently “Latin American” in style and content, was published and read all over the world. It soon became established as the greatest Latin American novel of all time, bringing its author the Nobel prize for literature, hitherto bestowed on Latin America’s less immediately accessible talents.
When that heady draught of liberation had been drained to the dregs, by the beginning of the 1970s, it was replaced by a decade of the fiercest military repression seen in the continent since the…