Latins in Manhattan

The Eyes of the Interred

by Miguel Angel Asturias, translated by Gregory Rabassa
Delacorte, 704 pp., $10.00

Triple Cross: Novellas

by Carlos Fuentes and José Donoso and Severo Sarduy, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, translated by Hallie D. Taylor
Dutton, 329 pp., $8.95

Diary of the War of the Pig

by Adolfo Bioy Casares, translated by Gregory Woodruff, translated by Donald A. Yates
McGraw-Hill, 196 pp., $5.95

62: A Model Kit

by Julio Cortázar, translated by Gregory Rabassa
Pantheon, 281 pp., $6.95

Counselor Ayres' Memorial

by Machado de Assis, translated by Helen Caldwell
California, 196 pp., $7.50

The Vampire of Curitiba and Other Stories

by Dalton Trevisan, translated by Gregory Rabassa
Knopf, 288 pp., $7.95

Seven Voices: Seven Latin American Writers Talk to Rita Guibert

by Rita Guibert, translated by Frances Partridge
Knopf, 448 pp., $10.00

that ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia

Finnegans Wake

In spite of brilliant deviations like Three Trapped Tigers and A Hundred Years of Solitude, naturalism remains the dominant mode of fiction in Latin America. It is a naturalism that accommodates myths, symbolism, streams of consciousness, elaborate narrative techniques, but naturalism, nevertheless, is what it is.

All writing presupposes a particular relation between the writer and the reader. In naturalistic fiction the writer is usually assumed to be the reader’s delegate. He sees more than we do, thinks more, and writes better. He has more imagination, more sensibility: he is our voice. His job is to find the right words, to name and describe events, people, objects, emotions, sensations. Writers can be good or not good at doing this, but if they choose this relation with their readers, they lock themselves up in literature, confine themselves in a closed, static universe of literary verisimilitudes and probabilities. If they live in our century, they have resigned themselves, whether they know it or not, to being minor writers.

Of the writers under review here, Asturias (from Guatemala), Fuentes (from Mexico), and Donoso (from Chile) are minor writers in these terms. Their prose sets out to capture the world—the light of a tropical morning, the shine on a businessman’s suit, the quality of life in a run-down brothel—and succeeds. But the success is a limitation and the coherence of these novels an admission of smallness: Asturias’s The Eyes of the Interred, Fuentes’s Holy Place (the first of the three narratives in Triple Cross), and Donoso’s Hell Has No Limits (the second of these three narratives) are only novels, bundles of words in pursuit of reality, nets that will catch only fish that are already dead.

This is not to say that the other writers under review are major writers (although I think the Brazilian Machado de Assis and the Argentinian Cortázar are), merely that they have not settled in advance for a minor mode. If we think of other models for the relation between writer and reader, some of all this will perhaps become clearer. Many writers refuse to see a disparity between themselves and their readers, and replace the suggestion of a delegation with an implied parallelism. They assume either that they themselves are also readers, deciphering the universe in much the same way as their readers are unscrambling their text: or that the reader is also a writer, creating worlds in his mind much like the one that is being assembled on the page before him. Or both, of course.

Borges, Bioy Casares, Machado de Assis, and Cortázar are readers, intent on what Cortázar calls “the old human topic—deciphering.” We may also think of Henry James, who constantly spoke of “making things out,” or of Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, reading signatures in the sand of an Irish beach. This is fiction which is modern in its epistemological concerns but also linked to the nineteenth century in its taste…

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