Academic journal article Chicago Review

A Conversation with Jorge Edwards

Academic journal article Chicago Review

A Conversation with Jorge Edwards

Article excerpt

The following exchange took place over email in February and March 2009.


Your new book--La Casa de Dostoievsky--seems to me a book about the consequences of different forms of commitment. But it is also the story of a generation, told through the life of an unnamed man known as "the Poet," beginning with a vivid portrait of Santiago's literary scene in the early 1950s. I'd like to discuss that generation because it is also your own: you published your first book in Santiago in 1952. You and your contemporaries were known as the generation of the "boom" in Latin American literature, considerably more international both in your influences and in your sales than your predecessors. Can you give me a sense of what kind of changes were taking place in Spanish-language literary culture at the time, and who you were reading?

My generation, which began to publish in the first years of the 1950s, was known in Chile as the "generation of 1950" before the notion of the "boom" appeared in the Latin American literary world. Some of those authors became known later in Latin America and Spain: Jose Donoso, Enrique Lihn, myself. It seems to me that we went from the experience of being local writers, from our own corners of the world, to one of recognition in the whole Spanish-speaking world. It's a change that we lived through in my generation. When we began writing, Spain, under the dictatorship of Franco, didn't have a strong literary life: it was not a center of publishing or of projecting our literature toward the rest of the world. But in the sixties, and with the appearance of the Seix Barral publishing house in Barcelona, that began to change. The Biblioteca Breve prize, won by La ciudad y los perros, Mario Vargas Llosa's first novel, was an extraordinary signal of that change. When we were taking our first steps in literature we read Andre Gide, Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Mann. Toward the beginning of the sixties Latin American novelists, essayists, and poets came onto our horizon. From Alejo Carpentier, Jorge Luis Borges, Ernesto Sabato, Joao Guimaraes Rosa, to Carlos Fuentes, Jose Donoso, Vargas Llosa and an extended et cetera. Not to mention poets like Pablo Neruda, Nicanor Parra, Octavio Paz, Cesar Vallejo. The Cuban Revolution, in its first years, was a great amplifier for this new literature in Spanish.

The role of the Cuban Revolution in the boom seems to me to contain a double irony. Through the literary magazine and prizes sponsored by the revolutionary government, it had a significant role in gathering an array of international talent and helping develop and promote it. The first irony is that it soon enough subjected many Cuban writers to persecution. But the second is that the boom was in great part a phenomenon of the international capitalist marketplace in literature discovering a new source of sales, owing a great deal to increased attention on Latin American literature due to wide-ranging enthusiasm for the anti-capitalist Cuban Revolution.

The Cuban Revolution seemed different from the "socialist realisms" of that era. Many of the intellectuals of those years, in Europe and the Americas, were at the same time anti-Soviet and pro-Castro. One of the dramatic moments of change was the speech in which Fidel Castro, a bit after August 1968, approved of the intervention in Czechoslovakia by Russian tanks and the Warsaw Pact (a scenario which I narrate in my latest novel).

In the beginning, the predominant idea, or perhaps illusion, was that the Cuban Revolution would build a form of socialism with happiness and all manner of liberties. Signs pointing to the contrary began to multiply very quickly, culminating with the closing of Lunes de Revolucion, with the prohibition of the documentary "P.M." and the fall into disgrace in Cuba and subsequent exile of Guillermo Cabrera Infante. I think that in the limited universe of left-wing intellectuals at that time, many preferred not to see those signs and draw the proper conclusions. …

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