By John Freeman
Imagine the portrait one might glean of the United States if all one read was the literature of William Faulkner, John Updike and Jack Kerouac.
For a long while, this rough analogy is how the bulk of U.S. readers formed their impressions of Latin America. A few literary colossi have dominated the region's dreamscape in translation: Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa.
But Fuentes has died, Marquez is too ill to write and Llosa seems poised for his Nobel victory lap. Few believe these elders will monopolize the next decade.
A new generation of Latin American writers is emerging, with different styles and concerns. Many were born after dictators in their region fell, but before truth and reconciliation commissions began. They grew up with NAFTA, globalization and MTV.
English readers have had little access to these rarely translated figures. Three years ago, the magazine I work for put together an anthology called "The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists." A jury of six chose 21 of the strongest writers under 35 from around the Spanish-speaking world.
Now we also have "The Future Is Not Ours," an anthology of 23 Latin American writers born between 1970 and 1980 chosen and edited by Diego Trelles Paz and ably translated by Janet Hendrickson.
As Trelles Paz, a Peruvian, describes it, the book grew organically from a digital 2007 project in Colombia. Many of the entries are good. They include some the most exciting young voices of Latin America: the elegant Argentine short story maestros Federico Falco and Samanta Schweblin, the gritty Peruvian-American Daniel Alarcon, and his half-countryman Santiago Roncagliolo.
Skip over the anthology's churlish introduction -- which, like so many of its kind fights old battles -- and go straight to the good stuff, which isn't hard, as the first story is a cracker.
Argentine Oliverio Coelho tells of a middle-aged writer on holiday in the East who gets in above his dapper head in a tryst with a Korean woman. "He followed her through the street," Coelho writes, "a little disconcerted. He couldn't catch up with her, as if this phosphorescent, humid city exposed the shadow of mediocrity underlying his Argentine grace."
The act of writing preoccupies several stories, but none of them use it as a keyhole to a character quite so effectively.
Sex is another recurring touchstone. From the hilarious machinations of couples for whom arguments are foreplay, to the sinister seethe of a city under dictatorship, many stories revolve around the body and its carnal vibrations.
In the Mexican writer Antonio Ortuno's hilarious "Pseudoephedrine," a couple nearly come to blows when they develop crushes on opposing homeopaths with differing opinions on how to treat their sick children.
Federico Falco's story "Fifteen Flowers," the collection's masterpiece, has a darker tint. A young man reminiscences on how girls who were pregnant took their own lives in his small Argentine town. Falco's measured tone and patience are unusual here. Many stories are so brief they could be called flash fiction. Others are mercifully brief.
In "Fish Spine," for instance, the Brazilian writer Santiago Nazarian writes of a Japanese market stall worker as if he were an alien from Mars. Andrea Jeftanovic's story revolves around a cheap and disturbing imagination of incest.
It seems a shame that such stories weren't dropped for work from more talented Brazilians, like Michel Laub or Daniel Galera, or the fiction of Argentines Pola Oloixarac or Lucia Puenzo.
And yet, for every two or three foul tips, "The Future Is Not Ours" introduces a writer worth watching. As in baseball, this is a fine-hit-rate indeed.
In an elliptical and beautiful story, Dominican writer Adriana Vasquez captures the feeling of being stuck on an island and imprisoned by beauty. And the Guatemalan Ronald Flores' "Any Old Story" conjures a woman from the provinces who comes to work in a factory and loses everything.
The collection's title suggests an anthology preoccupied with the disenfranchised, but that's not the case. Even if a lot of Latin America is, indeed, poor, there are wealthy kids in these stories and impoverished ones, too.
Happily, "The Future Is Not Ours" proves itself to be false advertising on literary accounts as well. Duds aside, here are talents to whom the future rightly belongs. And now we have even less of an excuse not to have read them.
John Freeman is the editor of Granta magazine and the author of "The Tyranny of E-mail."
Acerca de mí
- Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro
- "Odio los fluidos que se me salen del cuerpo cada veintiséis días." Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro (Guaynabo, 1970). Es novelista, cuentista y ensayista puertorriqueña. Fue elegida una de las escritoras latinoamericanas más importantes menores de 39 años del Bogotá39 convocado por la UNESCO, el Hay Festival y la Secretaría de Cultura de Bogotá por motivo de celebrar a Bogotá como Capital Mundial del libro 2007. Acaba de recibir Residency Grant Award 2011 del National Hispanic Cultural Center en Nuevo México. Es autora de los libros de cuentos, ‘Avalancha’ (2011), ‘Historias para morderte los labios’ (Finalista PEN Club 2010), y ‘Ojos de Luna’ (Segundo Premio Nacional 2008, Instituto de Literatura Puertorriqueña; Libro del Año 2007 Periódico El Nuevo Día), además de los libros de poesía ‘Medialengua’ (2010) y Perseidas (2011). Ha publicado las novelas ‘Los documentados’ (Finalista Premio PEN Club 2006) y Caparazones (2010, publicada en Puerto Rico y España).