Looking Back on 50 Years of Latin American Literary Rock Stars

Talking about the Boom is also talking about Latin American politics. Its writers were immersed in the turbulent political times of the subcontinent in the 60s and 70s, and saw themselves as public intellectuals and their works as pieces in that struggle. The most relevant political event of the time was, of course, the beginning of the Cuban revolution, and many have seen a connection between the attention that it brought to Latin America and the interest generated around the world by this new crop of writers. (Once again, the parallel with the Beatles rings true: music historians have suggested that Beatlemania was hyped by British newspapers to cover the embarrassment of the Profumo affair.) In many cases that connection was more direct: many of the Boom writers openly supported the Castro regime, most notoriously Gabriel García Márquez. But even when the Colombian writer never severed his ties with his close friend Fidel Castro, some of his fellow Boom members did (Vargas Llosa was among the first, and this political twist took him all the way to run for the Peruvian presidency as a liberal right wing in 1990). For many, the end of the infatuation with Castro began with the arrest of Cuban poet Heberto Padilla and his wife in 1971, an act of repression whose repercussions among intellectuals some have signaled as the end of the Boom itself. The disenchantment of the Boom writers with Castro and a sector of the Latin American left was also masterfully narrated in Persona Non Grata (1973) by Chilean Jorge Edwards, an account of his three months as ambassador of Salvador Allende in the island.

Macondo versus McOndo

Even when the Boom reached its peak in the late 60s and early 70s, its effects were still being felt well into the 80s, a decade in which García Márquez received the Nobel prize and published his last great novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. Even though most of their writers would never publish another masterpiece, no identifiable generation had taken the relay of expanding the boundaries of Latin American Literature. This began to change towards the end of that decade and the beginning of the 90s, when authors like Chilean Alberto Fuguet, Argentines Rodrigo Fresán and Juan Forn, Peruvian Jaime Bayly and Bolivian Edmundo Paz Soldán published their first short stories and novels. The world they presented was more embedded in pop culture and a fast-globalizing world than that of their literary antecessors, and more apolitical than socially committed. In 1996 Fuguet co-edited the anthology McOndo, that gave the new generation a playful and global-friendly title, while reminding the members of the Boom that their days were, indeed, numbered. The feat made Fuguet the face of this dismembered bunch, famously propelling him to the cover of Newsweek in connection with a 2002 article in which the magazine asked if magical realism was dead.

Five Essential Books

1. The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes (1962)

Fuentes' exploration of death, power and corruption is still one of the best gateways to appreciate the innovative techniques of the Boom writers as well as to understand the history of Mexico.

2. Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar (1963)

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