Looking Back on 50 Years of Latin American Literary Rock Stars

PHOTO: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The explosion may have happened long ago, but its echoes are still being heard. Almost half a century separates the publication of The Time of the Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa in 1963 and the concession of the Nobel Prize in Literature to the Peruvian novelist two years ago, two benchmarks that could serve as bookends to the remarkable literary movement known as the Latin American Boom, an unprecedented burst of creativity, genre-bending works and success that came out of the sub-continent in the 60's and 70's.

Even though the critics still quarrel about the first sign of the explosion, the cultural foundation Casa América chose Vargas Llosa's novel (originally published in Spanish as La Ciudad y Los Perros), as its beginning, and this week is celebrating its 50 years with a congress in Madrid. It is a perfect moment, then to re-discover those writers and works that forever changed the face of Latin American literature.

New Faces, New Perspectives

There's not one single element that defines the Boom (not even age: 22 years separated Vargas Llosa from Boom-fellow Julio Cortázar) other than being published in the same lapse of time — most of the masterpieces associated with the Boom were produced between 1962 and 1970. But stylistic similarities do exist: most of the novels share modernist traits (nonlinear use of time, shifting perspectives) while breaking apart from traditional ideas of what was allowed in fiction. This freewheeling spirit took them in different directions — from Vargas Llosa's raw depiction of reality and use of profanity to García Márquez's naïve-yet-powerful magical realism to Cortázar's read-it-as-you-wish novel Hopscotch.

In a more significant way, the members of the Boom made Latin American literature a cosmopolitan affair, and in turn became international superstars themselves — our own literary rock stars. In this sense, it is not a small coincidence that the arc of the Boom parallels that of The Beatles. The Time of the Hero was published the same year that the Fab Four began to change the face of pop music with their Liverpool take on rock and roll, and the movement's most celebrated work, One Hundred Years of Solitude came out just four days after the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. And just as García Márquez combined his newfound narrative techniques with the memories of his childhood in Aracataca, Colombia, Lennon and McCartney mixed sights, sounds and memories of their childhood with cut-and-paste techniques to create the most enduring album of the psychedelic era.

The Political Connection

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