Latin American Studies The Colombian Novel
by
Juana Suárez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0060

Introduction

Most classifications of the Colombian novel follow the Westernized model, adjusting literary movements to historical periods. Recent scholarship places emphasis on locating pre-Columbian literature since most literary histories quote Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada’s Antijovio (circa 1567) as the earliest narrative text. The Colonial period was highly dominated by poetry and by an elitist vision from criollos. For many critics, the transition from the Colony to the Republic did not represent a major stylistic or ideological change in literature, as it remained exclusively in the hands of the criollos, with rare exceptions in the context of the novel. Nineteenth century narrative was, in many cases, linked to the political views of the writers. Jorge Isaac’s María is considered to be the Colombian foundational romance par excellence; the work of writers such as José María Vargas Vila and Tomás Carrasquilla (died 1940) is considered equally important. Same as María, José Eustacio Rivera’s La vorágine is a novel of major national and international transcendence. The period of modernization of the country (1930–1946) witnessed the emergence of an extensive number of national literary histories. The assassination of Liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on 9 April 1948 is often cited as initiating the political wave of violence (la Violencia) that shook the country in the 1950s; García Márquez’s La hojarasca (1955) inaugurates a series of novels related to those years. His One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) marks the most significant turn in discussions and bibliographies about Colombian novels. The regionalist tradition, the marriage between power and writing, and the shadow of magical realism find their counterpoints in the 20th-century and contemporary novel. Yet, in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a group of novels that can be read with more defined experimental postmodern characteristics. The confluence of different manifestations of violence erupted with new topics and stories. Fernando Vallejo’s La Virgen de los sicarios (1994) crystallized a concern of the decade on the way drug dealing took over the country. Sicarios (hoodlums) became conspicuous in literary works, and the term “sicaresca” gained some temporary significance. The first decade of the 21st century witnessed a group of writers distancing themselves from magical realism, including Héctor Abad Faciolince, Evelio José Rosero, Mario Mendoza, Jorge Franco, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, and Santiago Gamboa, among others. Although their novels, topics, and literary styles are different, these authors share an affinity with visual languages; some of their works have been adapted to films. Old vintage concerns such as the centrality of Bogotá in literary debates, the invisibility of women writers (despite exceptional cases such as Laura Restrepo), the place of indigenous and Afro-descendant cultures, and writing in exile are examples of topics of contention and urge for restatements in studies of Colombian narrative.

General Overviews

Most scholarly overviews of the Colombian novel intend to offer approximations on periods, topics, or specific problems. Most of them are produced in Colombia and are rarely translated to English. General overviews also tend to offer regional balances, excluded here in an effort to introduce works that provide overarching discussions. Williams 1991 was published in English and Spanish; rather than investing in a review of existing critical literature on the Colombian novel, the author weaves the description and summary of former histories of Colombian literature into his discussion of ideological constructions, paying particular attention to the influence of the political orientation of the literary historian, whether Liberal or Conservative (traditionally the two dominant parties in the country). His emphasis on the constant link between novel, power, and ideology has become debatable over the years. Ayala Poveda 1984 is conceived as a pedagogical text. Álvarez Gardeazábal 2000 discusses the concept of “truth,” and although grounded neither on theoretical nor on philosophical debates, it addresses canonical novels; some of those works are also analyzed in Menton 2007.

  • Álvarez Gardeazábal, Gustavo. La novela colombiana entre la verdad y la mentira. Bogotá: Plaza & Janés, 2000.

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    Discusses the historical context of María, El moro, La vorágine, Cien años de soledad, and the author’s Cóndores no entierran todos los días, questioning whether these novels evade or face the political context in a country where writing is closely linked to power. With questionable conclusions, the book gains significance for the way Álvarez Gardeazábal revisits the tradition of the writer reflecting on national literature.

  • Ayala Poveda, Fernando. Manual de literatura colombiana. Bogotá: Educar Editores, 1984.

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    Traditional in its chronology, the analysis of each period combines notes on writers, tendencies, periods, and fragments of literary works. Informed by cultural criticism and the most important historiographical books; however, it is not necessarily canonical in the selection of topics and novels. The book is illustrated with book covers and graphics to accompany the discussions on periods and contexts.

  • Menton, Seymour. La novela colombiana: Planetas y satélites. Bogotá: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007.

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    Menton proposes Isaac’s María, Carrasquilla’s Frutos de mi tierra, and Rivera’s La vorágine as the most important Colombian novels, using the figure of planets. Novels of minor relevance but worth studying constitute “satellites.” First published in 1978, this 2007 augmented edition emphasizes that “no planet novel” has been written in the meantime. Nonetheless, new novels have been added, such as the “Bolívarian constellation,” introducing four novels about Bolívar.

  • Williams, Raymond L. The Colombian Novel, 1844–1987. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.

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    Considered the most authoritative study on the topic, Williams’s classification has served over the years as the guidebook to approach further discussions. Attentive to the strong connections between power and literature, the critic recounts the main regional and geographical divisions that operate as loci of cultural and intellectual production and as markers of ideological formation through the 19th and 20th centuries.

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