Latin American Boom

The Latin American Boom (Boom Latinoamericano) was a literary movement of the 1960s and 1970s when the work of a group of relatively young Latin American novelists became widely circulated in Europe and throughout the world. The Boom is most closely associated with Julio Cortázar of Argentina, Carlos Fuentes of Mexico, Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru, and Gabriel García Márquez of Colombia. Influenced by European and North American Modernism, but also by the Latin American Vanguardia movement, these writers challenged the established conventions of Latin American literature. Their work is experimental and, owing to the political climate of the Latin America of the 1960s, also very political. "It is no exaggeration," critic Gerald Martin writes, "to state that if the Southern continent was known for two things above all others in the 1960s, these were, first and foremost, the Cuban Revolution (although Cuba is not in South America) and its impact both on Latin America and the Third World generally, and secondly, the Boom in Latin American fiction, whose rise and fall coincided with the rise and fall of liberal perceptions of Cuba between 1959 and 1971."[1]

The sudden success of the Boom authors was in large part due to the fact that their works were among the first Latin American novels to be published in Europe, by publishing houses such as Barcelona's avant-garde Seix Barral in Spain.[2] Indeed, Frederick M. Nunn writes that "Latin American novelists became world famous through their writing and their advocacy of political and social action, and because many of them had the good fortune to reach markets and audiences beyond Latin America through translation and travel—and sometimes through exile."[3]

Background

The 1960s and 1970s were decades of political turmoil all over Latin America, in a political and diplomatic climate strongly influenced by the dynamics of the Cold War. This climate formed the background for the work of the writers of the Latin American Boom, and defined the context in which their sometimes radical ideas had to operate. The Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the subsequent USA attempt to thwart it through the Bay of Pigs Invasion can be seen as the start of this period.[4] Cuba's vulnerability led it to closer ties with the USSR, resulting in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when the US and USSR came dangerously close to nuclear war.[5] Throughout the 1960s and 1970s military authoritarian regimes ruled in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and many others. For example, on September 11, 1973 the democratically elected President Salvador Allende was overthrown in Chile and replaced by General Augusto Pinochet who would go on to rule until the end of the 1980s.[6] Chile under Pinochet became "infamous for [...] human rights abuses and torture techniques",[7] and in Argentina the 1970s brought the Dirty War, notorious for its human rights violations and the disappearances of Argentine citizens.[8] Many of these governments (which were supported by the US) cooperated with each other in terms of torturing or eliminating political opponents and "disposing of their bodies" in "the Operation Condor."[9]

The period between 1950 and 1975 saw major changes in the way in which history and literature were approached in terms of interpretation and writing.[10] It also produced a change in the self perception of Spanish American novelists . The development of the cities, the coming of age of a large middle class, the Cuban Revolution, the Alliance for Progress, an increase in communication between the countries of Latin America, the greater importance of the mass media, and a greater attention to Latin America from Europe and the United States all contributed to this change.[11] The most important political events of the period were the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the Chilean coup d'état in 1973. The fall of General Perón in Argentina, the protracted violent struggle of the urban guerrillas, brutally repressed in Argentina and Uruguay, and the unending violence in Colombia[10] also affected writers, as they generated explanations, or testimonies, or provided a troubling background for their work.

The greater attention paid to Spanish American novelists and their international success in the 1960s, a phenomenon that was called the Boom, affected all writers and readers in that period. What mainly brought writers together and focused the attention of the world on Hispanic America was the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which promised a new age. The period of euphoria can be considered closed when in 1971 the Cuban government hardened its party line and the poet Heberto Padilla was forced to reject in a public document his so-called decadent and deviant views. The furor over Padilla's case brought to an end the affinity between Spanish American intellectuals and the Cuban inspirational myth.[12] The Padilla affair is thought by some to have signalled the beginning of the end of the Boom.[13] However, in a significant sense, the Boom has not ended; the writers associated with the Boom have continued to publish books that have been read by audiences far larger than those enjoyed by Latin American writers prior to the Boom. The books of such writers as Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa are widely distributed and translated into other major European and Asian languages to a much greater extent than those of such significant pre-Boom writers as José María Arguedas, Eduardo Mallea or Manuel Rojas.