Latin American Fiction “Boom” Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A virtual explosion of masterful novels produced within the rubric of Latin America’s “new narrative” and written by authors who would gain worldwide fame catapulted the Latin American novel to the forefront of world literature.

Summary of Event

During the latter half of the 1950’s and throughout the 1960’s, Latin American novelists produced a spate of popular and critically acclaimed novels that sent the Latin American novel to the forefront of world literature. This period became known as the “Boom” in the Latin American novel. [kw]Latin American Fiction “Boom” (1955-1970) [kw]Fiction “Boom”, Latin American (1955-1970)[Fiction Boom, Latin American] [kw]"Boom", Latin American Fiction (1955-1970)[Boom, Latin American Fiction] Literary movements;"the Boom"[Boom] "Boom, the"[Boom, the] Literary movements;"the Boom"[Boom] "Boom, the"[Boom, the] [g]Latin America;1955-1970: Latin American Fiction “Boom”[04760] [c]Literature;1955-1970: Latin American Fiction “Boom”[04760] Borges, Jorge Luis Cortázar, Julio Donoso, José Fuentes, Carlos García Márquez, Gabriel Lispector, Clarice Guimarães Rosa, João Rulfo, Juan Vargas Llosa, Mario

Virtually all the Boom novels were, to one degree or another, examples of the Latin American “new novel,” the novel genre’s branch of Latin America’s “new narrative.” The new narrative New narrative Literary movements;new narrative had first begun to play a role in Latin American fiction during the 1940’s, when writers such as Jorge Luis Borges in Argentina and Clarice Lispector in Brazil first began to produce a brand of narrative different from that which had characterized Latin American fiction earlier in the twentieth century. The “old” narrative had been chiefly concerned with painting a realistic and detailed picture of external Latin American reality. Description frequently had ruled over action, environment over character, and types over the individual. Social message, also, had often been more important to the writer than narrative artistry. Presentation of story had usually been simple and direct, and the reader’s role had been a passive one.

The new narrative was new in that it released Latin American fiction from its documentary nature and thus allowed fiction to be just that—fiction. The new narrative also turned its focus toward the inner workings of its fully individualized human characters, presented various interpretations of reality (expanding the conventional definition of “reality” and often incorporating magical elements—a practice often referred to as “Magical Realism”), expressed universal as well as regional and national themes, and invited (and often required) reader participation.

Works in the new style also emphasized the importance of artistic and challenging presentation of the story, particularly with respect to narrative voice, language, structure, time, and characterization (so much so that presentation of the story in some works seems more important than the story itself). The new approach began to dominate Latin American fiction by the first half of the 1950’s; during the second half of the decade and into the 1960’s, the new narrative was taken up by a number of master practitioners, resulting in the Boom, one of the richest periods the novel genre has known in any literature.

A list of the principal writers of the Boom reads like a who’s who of Latin American novelists of the second half of the twentieth century. Most of these writers had begun writing in the early 1950’s (and in some cases earlier), but most hit their stride during the Boom, when many produced their most famous works. One of these writers was Juan Rulfo of Mexico, whose landmark novel Pedro Páramo Pedro Páramo (Rulfo) (1955), the unconventionally presented tale of a local despot, is pointed to by some, along with Brazilian João Guimarães Rosa’s Grande Sertão-Veredas Devil to Pay in the Backlands, The (Guimarães Rosa) (1956; The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, 1963), as being the first novel of the Boom, fully exemplifying, as both novels do, the concept of the new novel.

The works of Rulfo and Rosa were followed by even more famous novels by writers who would gain even more international fame. Among these was the Argentine Julio Cortázar, whose Rayuela Hopscotch (Cortázar) (1963; Hopscotch, 1966) must be read twice—first from chapters 1 to 56 and then again with what the author calls “Expendable Chapters” (chapters 57 to 155) inserted between those read the first time. Also gaining fame during the Boom was the Mexican Carlos Fuentes, who produced several novels during the period, the most famous being La muerte de Artemio Cruz Death of Artemio Cruz, The (Fuentes) (1962; The Death of Artemio Cruz, 1964), the story of a Mexican opportunist told through three narrative voices from the protagonist’s deathbed.

The Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa produced three novels during the Boom as well, among them La casa verde Green House, The (Vargas Llosa) (1966; The Green House, 1968), a technically challenging novel set both in a brothel in a northwestern Peruvian city and in the Amazonian wilderness. Four novels produced during the Boom, including El obsceno pájaro de la noche Obscene Bird of Night, The (Donoso) (1970; The Obscene Bird of Night, 1973), a bizarre tale told by a schizophrenic narrator/protagonist, earned the Chilean José Donoso an international reputation. While the Boom was significantly less a factor in Brazil than in Spanish-speaking parts of Latin America, the works of Clarice Lispector earned a place alongside those of her Spanish American counterparts, particularly her A macã no escuro Apple in the Dark, The (Lispector) (1961; The Apple in the Dark, 1967), an ironic story of a character’s quest for self-awareness.

No Latin American writer, however, earned more of a reputation during the Boom than did the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, whose Cien años de soledad One Hundred Years of Solitude (García Márquez) (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970), the magical story of six generations of the Buendía family, became the most famous piece of literature ever to come out of Latin America and the most highly praised and widely read Spanish-language novel since Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote de la Mancha (1612-1620). Other writers who earned their reputation in part or full during the Boom were the Cubans Alejo Carpentier, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and José Lezama Lima, the Argentine Manuel Puig, and the Brazilian Jorge Amado (though Amado’s novels did not actually fit into the rubric of the new novel). Ironically, one of the most important names in Latin American literature earned his international fame during the Boom as well, though he never wrote a single novel and had already produced the majority of his most famous and acclaimed works prior to the Boom. This was Jorge Luis Borges, whose short stories from the 1940’s (such as those in 1944’s Ficciones) gained an international audience in the 1960’s.

Significance

Though the Boom in the Latin American novel in strictest definition concerns only the explosion in the production of new Latin American novels, most literary historians consider as part of the Boom the various related “booms” the production of said novels inspired. These related events began to occur during the Boom period itself, and many continued long after the explosion in the production of the novels had passed.

These “booms” occurred in the fields of translation (as most of the novels of the Boom were translated into various languages, especially English, soon after their publication in the original Spanish or Portuguese), sales (as the novels sold in unprecedented numbers both within Latin America and abroad), and critical attention (with literary conferences, journals, and countless articles and books dedicated to the works of the period). The Boom even helped cause an explosion in Spanish and, to a lesser degree, Portuguese graduate programs in North American universities, as fascinated undergraduate readers of the works of the Boom pursued their interest in the period in graduate school on their way to becoming specialists and future critics in the field.

All this—the Boom itself and the related “booms” it inspired—helped capture a worldwide audience for the Latin American novel and its practitioners. (This was true even in the 1960’s, but even more so in the 1970’s and later, as translations were more widely distributed and awareness among foreign readers became more common.) Almost overnight, the new Latin American novel moved to the forefront of world literature (it has even been suggested that it helped rescue the ailing novel genre on a worldwide scale) and those who were responsible for its creation, such as García Márquez, Fuentes, and Vargas Llosa, became international literary celebrities. Moreover, although the Boom itself ended with the 1960’s, the international audience the novels of the Boom had captured had only begun to grow. Years after the original publication, readers around the world came to know works such as The Death of Artemio Cruz and One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Most of the principal writers of the novels of the Boom, most notably García Márquez, Fuentes, and Vargas Llosa, continued to write within the rubric (although an evolving one) of the new novel for years to come. Their works were now eagerly awaited by the international reading public, with translations of their latest novels reviewed in Time magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and other publications that exposed their work to audiences outside Latin America. Even Latin American writers who had not participated in the Boom but who were practitioners, to one degree or another, of the new novel, such as the Chilean Isabel Allende, benefited from the attention the Latin American novel had earned during the Boom. In the years that followed, an international reading public more aware of and interested in Latin American literature readily embraced the works of the region’s writers, both old and new.

The Boom in the Latin American novel stands as the single most important period in the history of Latin American literature, not only for its extraordinarily high number of popular and critically acclaimed works and writers but also for the attention the period won for the Latin American new novel in particular and for Latin American letters in general. In the case of the new novel, that attention would endure for years. Literary movements;"the Boom"[Boom] "Boom, the"[Boom, the]

Further Reading
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    Books Abroad 44 (Winter, 1970): 7-50. Issue devoted to “The Latin American Novel Today.” Articles both on the Latin American novel of the Boom and on individual authors and their works largely within the context of the Boom. Articles include an introduction by Mario Vargas Llosa and “The New Latin-American Novel” by Emir Rodríguez Monegal. Most titles and quotations in English.
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    xlink:type="simple">Brushwood, John S. The Spanish American Novel: A Twentieth-Century Survey. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975. An exhaustive survey, in strict chronological order, of the Spanish American novel from 1900 through the early 1970’s. An excellent source for plot summaries and cogent, although necessarily brief, analyses of the novels of the Boom. Excellent index. Titles in Spanish; quotations in English.
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    xlink:type="simple">Donoso, José. The Boom in Spanish American Literature: A Personal History. Translated by Gregory Kolovakos. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977. Fascinating first-person account of the Boom by one of its major figures. Discusses significant aspects of the Boom; also confronts, and to a large degree repudiates, several common assumptions about the period and its writers. Laced with information concerning Donoso’s own personal situation within the Boom. Good index. Titles of translated works in English. Titles of other works in Spanish, with English translation.
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    xlink:type="simple">Dravasa, Mayder. The Boom in Barcelona: Literary Modernism in Spanish and Spanish-American Fiction, 1950-1974. New York: P. Lang, 2005. Although focused more on Spain than on Latin America, this study provides the cultural, economic, political, and literary background of the Boom. Bibliographic references and index.
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    xlink:type="simple">Gallagher, D. P. “Latin American Fiction from 1940.” In Modern Latin American Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. Seven-page discussion of the nature of Latin American fiction since 1940, with emphasis on the type of novel produced during the Boom. Concise introduction to the subject. Very readable. Titles in Spanish.
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    Latin American Literary Review 15 (January-June, 1987): 7-206. Special issue entitled “The Boom in Retrospect: A Reconsideration.” Article titles include “Two Views of the Boom: North and South,” “The First Seven Pages of the Boom,” “Translating the Boom: The Apple Theory of Translation,” and “Literature and History in Contemporary Latin America.” Articles are interesting for their perspective, as they were written years after the Boom. Titles and quotations in English.
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    xlink:type="simple">McMurray, George R. Spanish American Writing Since 1941: A Critical Survey. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1987. Half of this book is dedicated to Spanish American fiction writers. Brief overviews are presented for each of Latin America’s most important narrativists, beginning with writers of the 1940’s and 1950’s who sent Spanish American narrative, as the author puts it, in “new directions.” Followed by more lengthy essays on the major writers of the Boom. Fine starting point for the English-speaking reader. Titles in Spanish, with English translations.
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    xlink:type="simple">Rodríguez Monegal, Emir. “The Contemporary Brazilian Novel.” In Fiction in Several Languages, edited by Henri Peyre. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968. Traces evolution of the twentieth century Brazilian novel, with Rosa and Lispector discussed as masters of the “post-regionalist” novel. Concluding section places the contemporary Brazilian novel within the context of Latin American literature. Titles in Portuguese.
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    xlink:type="simple">Schwartz, Ronald. Nomads, Exiles, and Émigrés: The Rebirth of the Latin America Narrative, 1960-80. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1980. Features chapters on ten novelists of the Boom (among them Cortázar, García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, and Donoso). Each chapter presents a brief biographical sketch, an overview of the author’s works, and an analysis of one of his novels. Introduction as well as conclusion concerning the Boom. English-language bibliography and good index. Titles and quotations in English. Especially suited for readers with little or no knowledge of Latin American fiction.
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    xlink:type="simple">Swanson, Philip. Latin American Fiction: A Short Introduction. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005. Very useful introductory text covers the Latin American fiction of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Devotes two of its seven chapters to the Boom and its aftermath. Bibliographic references and index.
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    xlink:type="simple">Vázquez Amaral, José. The Contemporary Latin American Narrative. New York: Las Américas, 1970. In-depth discussion of eleven Spanish American novels of the twentieth century, including works by Fuentes, Vargas Llosa, García Márquez, and Cortázar. Introduction and conclusion, as well as a chapter on Latin American fiction as a new genre, help place the works discussed in historical, cultural, and literary context. Good index. Titles and quotations in English.

Borges’s Ficciones Transcends Traditional Realism

Rise of the New Novel

Death of Villa-Lobos

García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude Is Published

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