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Volume 62 / Humanities

LITERATURE: SPANISH AMERICA: 20th Century Prose Fiction: Central America


WILFRIDO H. CORRAL, Chair, Foreign Languages, California State University, Sacramento

PERHAPS THE MOST CONSISTENT EXAMPLE of the vitality of Central American writing at this point is the exquisite prose of the Guatemalan writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa. Indeed, Rey Rosa is unique among most Central Americans for publishing outside his country, and enjoying a positive reception outside the continent as well as the admiration of his extremely accomplished contemporaries (for example, the late Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño). Writers of the same generation, like the Salvadoran Horacio Castellanos Mora, are becoming increasingly well known for their contributions to the short novel, a genre that publishing houses privilege for reasons having to do with market constraints rather than esthetic concerns. But two authors do not always make a literary canon.

After the generational voids left by the deaths of Augusto Monterroso and Mario Monteforte Toledo (see HLAS 60, p. 512), there is no discernible new Central American generation comparable to those loosely defined in the rest of the continent by inclusion in anthologies like McOndo, Líneas aéreas, or Se habla español: voces latinas en USA, all published during the last decade. In the first compliation, the Costa Rican Rodrigo Soto is the only Central American included. In Líneas aéreas, Soto, Carlos Cortés, and Uriel Quesada represent Costa Rica, and there is only one writer included for each of the other Central American countries. In the more diffuse and conceptually problematic Se habla español, the only Central Americans are Ricardo Armijo (Nicaragua), Roberto Quesada (Honduras), and Rey Rosa. Armijo and Quesada have lived in the US since the 1980s, and both may well be part of the ambivalently defined Central American diaspora. Only Rey Rosa's name rings a bell with a wider public. Of course this lack of familiarity does not always have to do with the quality of authors.

As if to remedy the situation described above, in 2002 the Guatemalan subsidiary of the Spanish publishing giant Alfaguara published Los centroamericanos (antología de cuentos). Unfortunately, its editor considered for inclusion a very reduced number of writers from more recent generations, and Rey Rosa is noticeably absent. The editor, and most likely the publisher, opted for including safe, marketable writers like Monterroso and Sergio Ramírez, and other older, but still unknown authors. The inclusion of Castellanos Moya and, above all, El Salvador's Jacinta Escudos more than makes up for blatant absences in Los centroamericanos. As I have pointed out in previous volumes of HLAS, the lack of attention to women writers seems insurmountable in the continent, as is the apparent need to hold onto Rigoberta Menchú as a holistic representative of the continent's continuous ills and hopes. One may well question why this is so.

Given the sense of urgency still provided by Central American history it is not surprising that literary postmodernism has subsided, if it ever had any hold there, and may even be disappearing. In this regard, Central American prose is not different from the observable trends in the rest of the Americas. As a result, purely esthetic, ironic, and playful attitudes (in the represented worlds) are always counterbalanced by a retelling of recent history, either by allusion and allegory, or by employing referents that are generally apprehensible to locals. This dynamic, we know, may limit the appeal of the prose to a wider readership, or obstruct whatever "universal" message the authors may have had in mind. This limitation also affects smaller South American countries, although there is little consolation in seeing the development of Central American prose in these terms. The fact is, Central American prose is still being defined by its outside reception, and although that may not be negative in and of itself, the need to expand horizons is patently clear.


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