Welcome to the ‘Literary Blog Hop’, a meme hosted by The Blue Bookcase for book bloggers who focus on reviewing literary fiction. This weeks’ hop comes with the question:
What setting (time or place) from a book or story would you most like to visit? Eudora Welty said that, “Being shown how to locate, to place, any account is what does most toward making us believe it…,” so in what location would you most like to hang out?
First of all, I’d like to thank Robyn for this weeks brilliant question. With some books I’ve often wished I could just dive into the setting and live there forever. The ones that made me feel this way are mostly set in or are by South American authors. Maybe it’s something to do with the way these writers write, but Latin America certainly does have a unique charm that blends the essence of two continents rather than one; the totemic mysteries of its indigenous tribes and the etiquette of colonial Europe. And it is on these two opposing axis’ that most Latin American literature is often played out. My first proper foray into it was seven years ago, when I came across ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ by Jorge Luis Borges. At the time I was studying the finer points of short story writing and among the collection we had to read, this one stood out as a masterpiece. It sent shivers through me, and put me on the path to discovery, even though the others in the class weren’t particularly moved by the mind-boggling possibilities of what Borges conveyed.
Even though the story wasn’t about Latin America, I had my first ever taste of ‘magical realism’, been introduced to the concept of ‘hypertext fiction’ and one of Borges’ more permanent ‘personal myths’; the book as labyrinth. In fact, Borges seldom wrote about Latin America. So strong and clear was his grasp of ‘fiction’; the quality of its parts both isolated and as a whole that his stories sit on the very precipice of reality and are just as challenging today as they were 80 years ago. It was this feeling of walking around inside his Daliesque world when I realised I had probably stumbled upon Latin America at its most quintessential. Ultimately, Borges brought around the idea that a country, its people, its violent histories, its death as a nameless land and rebirth as the ‘New World’ is somehow genetically encoded in all who have come to live there. The writer merely heats this monstrous history in the crucible of his mind, reduces it down to its essence and pours it into a vessel of fiction.
Since then I have become enamoured with Argentine authors. With Borges I discovered a rare path into the avant-garde, Ultraist Literary movement of the 1900’s that I thought had ended with Anais Nin and Djuna Barnes. With Gabriel Garcia-Marquez and Isabel Allende, I discovered the complexities of family lore and political turmoil and how this lay at the heart of all South American culture. Later, Roberto Bolano taught me about the kaleidoscopic ‘voices’ of the past that echo throughout the land and the way colonialism had all but destroyed the indigenous spirit of this great continent. Last year, Ernesto Guevara, another Argentine writer (and freedom fighter) showed me how all modern Latin Americans doom themselves to capitalism (the new colonialism) if they do not embrace and reconcile with that very spirit they once tried to cage and tame.
There is such a mixture of ideas, customs and cultures, that to understand Latin America, one would best remember that it does not actually belong to ‘a set’ of people, but like the elusive Jaguar, moves in the shadows of history and the wilderness of a past that refuses to die. One where the quetzalcoatl and many other gods who were considered extinct still live on, attached to Christianity and by burying themselves deeply in everyday folklore and myth.