The International Style in Latin American Fiction

Mention the Latin American novel and most likely someone will picture some form of regional exotica. While magic realism can be great in the proper hands (Gabriel García Márquez), it can also be trite and formulaic in the wrong ones (Isabel Allende).

But there’s another type of Latin American novel that starts with Jorge Luis Borges and continues through Julio Cortázar and Roberto Bolaño. This strain of fiction derives from the European modernism of Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Günter Grass, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. Sometimes, as in Bolaño’s work, the setting is Europe, usually involving Latin Americans in temporary exile there.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez perfectly captures one of the salient qualities of this type of Latin American novel in his discussion of Andrés Neuman’s Traveler of the Century. Gabriel Vásquez writes,

In the end, and despite (or because of) its European obsessions,Traveller of the Century belongs in the quintessentially Latin American genre of the “total novel”: the all-encompassing narrative bent on exploring every theme, every social milieu, every emotional possibility. I stress this because it would be both easy and wrong to look at Neuman’s book in the context of “globalised fiction” – novels desperate for acceptance by everyone that end up talking about no one. No: Neuman’s novel is solidly inscribed in the Argentinian tradition, advocated by Borges in a famous essay, of not being recognisably Argentinian.

Neuman’s novel is an example of an international style in Latin American fiction. This style isn’t about a uniquely Latin American reality, as in magic realism, but about Latin Americans in world space.

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