Latin American Novels of the Conquest: Reinventing the New World

Synopsis

As the quincentenary of Columbus's first voyage was approaching, Latin American authors vied to finish novels rewriting the conquest in order to have them published in 1992. Surprisingly, few of these novels attempted to reconstruct the indigenous perspective on this historical moment, focusing instead on representing the European conquerors. Kimberle Lopez considers five of these works: Juan Jose Saer's El entendado; Herminio Martinez's Diario maldito de Nuno de Guzman; Abel Posse's El largo atardecer del caminate; and Homero Aridjis's 1492: Vida y tiempos de Juan Cabezon de Castilla and Memorias del Nuevo Mundo. She explores how their authors represented the conquest from the fictionalized perspective of the conquistador, ultimately deconstructing the rhetoric of empire through the representation of ambivalence.

Lopez proposes that the anxiety of identification expressed within these novels entails a fear of losing ego boundaries, which provokes the simultaneous fascination and aversion felt by the colonizer toward the colonized. The fictionalized and would-be conquistadors all identify with certain aspects of Amerindian culture -- significantly, those elements that are most distinct from European culture, such as cannibalism and human sacrifice -- but also feel the need to distance themselves from these "others" in order to protect their own European cultural identity. In most cases, the conquistadors themselves are represented as outsiders within the enterprise of imperialism, due to ethnic, religious, or sexual differences from the norm. This representation turns the gaze inward toward the "other" within European culture, underscoring the origins of Latin American cultures in theviolent encounter between the Amerindians and the conquistadors.