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What Is Latin American Literature?

By R. Stamm
Updated May 23, 2024
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Latin American literature is the written account of the trials and triumphs of the Latin American people. The literature focuses on the personal, social, or political struggles of the average citizen. Latin American writers are responsible for introducing new literary genres such as magical realism and the philosophical short story. Its popularity with the rest of the world grew from the 1940s on through the 1960s literary boom.

The first novels began to appear in Latin American literature during the 19th century. Early writers posed questions about national identities or whether European customs should replace local traditions. Jose Hernandez, an Argentinean writer, wrote the first Latin American epic poem during this period. The poem, “Martin Fierro,” criticized the Argentinean president’s modernist policies and highlighted the importance of the gaucho to Argentina’s national identity.

The late 19th century ushered in the period of modernismo in Latin American. Modernismo refers to the modernist movement that was occurring internationally at this time. Ruben Dario’s poem “Azul” was the first poem published and read outside of Latin American society. One of the most influential writers during this period is Jorge Luis Borges, who created the genre of philosophical short stories.

After World War II, Latin American literature experienced a boom period, and the rest of the world began to take an interest in Latin American writers. Writers experimented with new literary styles and writing techniques, with a focus on universal and metaphysical themes. They found inspiration for their works from Jorge Luis Borges and North American writers such as William Faulkner. The first literary magazines were produced and published to showcase new authors and poets.

The style most associated with Latin American literature during the boom period is Magical Realism. This form of prose incorporates and blends elements of the unbelievable or supernatural with elements of a more realistic nature. The purpose of this style is to give the reader a deeper understanding of realistic events. The style was popularized by Gabrielle Garcia Marquez after the publication of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which has been hailed as one of the most important books from Latin America.

Contemporary literature in Latin America is more ironic, with less focus on magical realism. Writers had a strong desire to move away from magical realism and towards mainstream literary genres. Paulo Coelho is one of the most influential writers in contemporary Latin American literature. His book, “The Alchemist” is a Brazilian best seller and is considered a modern classic.

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Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On Jul 23, 2012

I adore Magical Realism as a genre and I'm so glad that it became an accepted way to present literary themes. Literature can be fairly dry and as a child I really preferred reading fantasy and science fiction. But, as I grew older I was dissatisfied with the exploration of human nature and of characters in general in those works. I still enjoy them, but literary works fill a need that they can't.

Magical realism allows me to combine the two in a way that is very satisfying. And it explores the ideas that only seem to be touched on in other works. The short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example, doesn't hold back from showing what would actually happen if such a man appeared suddenly in a village. If the same thing happened in a fantasy novel, the result would be quite different. I'll always be grateful to South American authors for daring to write these sorts of works. It can't have been easy when they first did it.

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