No More Levitating Grannies
Feinstein, Adam, New Statesman (1996)
What happens when a boom fizzles out? As many of the countries of Latin America have emerged into a fully formed, confident identity, Latin American novelists have discovered that they cannot write their own homeland into existence. They are no longer, in the words of the great Argentinian novelist Ernesto Sabato, "like the pioneers of the Far West who farmed the land with a gun at their side". The developed world, however, often wants Latin America to be what it no longer is: picturesque, magical and quaint.
The "boom" novel, which exploded on to the world stage in the late 1960s, included outstanding practitioners such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortazar and Jose Donoso. This started to lose its power in the early 1990s, when critics began describing it as elitist and politically conservative, as a narrative apparently removed from everyday life and contemporary political concerns. At their peak, the "boom" authors were seen as heroes who overcame the difficulties of their Latin American or third world circumstances through their creative imagination, and showed that their continent could be free.
The term "magical realism" has been attributed to the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier, who first applied it to Latin American fiction in 1949 to mean a method of expressing the specific, wondrous realities of the developing world. His novels The Lost Steps, The Chase and Explosion in a Cathedral, published between 1953 and 1962, are considered ground-breaking works that forged a vision of the American continent based on its distinctive historical, social, cultural, ethnic and political characteristics.
Works of magical realism mingled realistic portrayals of events and characters with fantasy and myth, creating a rich, often disturbing world that is both familiar and dreamlike. Non-Latin American writers whose fiction often employs magical realism include Italo Calvino and Salman Rushdie.
From the 1950s onwards, there were rapid economic and political changes in virtually the whole of Latin America. However, the continent was brought to the brink of self-destruction through military intervention, civil war and guerrilla warfare, or attempts at domination by the USSR or the US. …