“The second half of the twentieth century will be remembered as the era of the Latin American novel.” Only time will tell whether such a speculation, raised individually by critics Maurice Nadeau and Raymond Sokolov, is actually to be borne out. Still, it cannot be doubted that, beginning with Borges and Carpentier in the 1940s, and Rulfo and Cortázar in the 1950s, the explosion of narrative talent in Hispanic America constitutes a special period in the history of human creativity, a privileged moment when one sees a much-afflicted civilization actively producing and receiving its foundational classics of the literary imagination. And it is not only a question of a few sovereign and “universal” authors’ names—admirable though their writings may be—but also, among Latin America’s reading publics and intelligentsia alike, a sense that literature truly matters, that its assumptions and art belong to the larger sociopolitical debate and thus contribute in a vital way toward the life of Latin American nations.
To many foreign readers, this panorama of South American creativity has come to be symbolized by the figure of Colombia’s Gabriel García Márquez, whose work combines features both of Tolstoy the realist story teller of everyday life and of Dostoevsky the visionary fantasist and satirist. Of course the name García Márquez primarily conjures up his One Hundred Years of Solitude, that cultural phenomenon the like of which we see seldom in our times. Here is a great and complex book that, within its covers, includes every possible aspect of human life and, in its art and structure, demonstrates a sophistication and mastery the equal of Melville, Joyce, Proust, Faulkner, or Nabokov at their best. At the same time the book enjoys continued high sales in Colombia, in Latin America, and throughout much of the world. For such a confluence of high art and popular success one needs to go back to the nineteenth century, when entire French families would anxiously await the next installment from Balzac or Hugo, and Yankee audiences would pack the halls in order to see and hear Dickens in the flesh.
It would be impossible to overestimate the impact that García Márquez’s chronicle has had on the larger reading public. Some statistics and anecdotes should suffice to convey the extent of its influence. When the Argentine pub-