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A Hammock Beneath the Mangoes: Stories from Latin America.

Although limited in scope, Thomas Colchie's new anthology provides the English-speaking reader with a large number of well chosen stories from Latin America. Colchie has chosen to include material only from the River Plate region, Chile, Brazil, Mexico and the Caribbean, which means he has left out some of Latin America's most outstanding writers, including Nobel Prize winner Miguel Angel Asturias, from Guatemala, and Mario Vargas Llosa, from Peru. He includes Columbian Gabriel Garcia Marquez--rather sneakily--in the section on the Caribbean.

For the most part, this anthology offers few surprises. From the River Plate come stories by Quiroga, Cortazar, Borges, Onetti, and Bioy Casares--most of them works commonly found in Spanish-language anthologies. Colchie has selected only one woman author to appear in this section, Armonia Somers--a curious choice considering the large number of first-rate women writers from the region. He has also included a piece by Manuel Puig, known far better as a novelist than as a short-story writer. This particular story, "Relative Humanity 95%" picks up on familiar Puig themes--parents' terror of their children's sexuality, pop culture, urban angst, aging, the demands of the body, lack of communication between men and women--and is a welcome addition to the collection.

From Chile Colchie has used just one story, Isabel Allende's "Toad's Mouth," about a prostitute who invents a game in which she lies on her back and allows men to toss coins between her legs; if a man's coin lands in the "mouth," he wins two hours alone with her. Allende has written some wonderfully beautiful and poetic stories, but "Toad's Mouth" hardly gives the reader a feel for the author's talent or the magic and energy of most of her writing. Chile, with its rich and varied literary tradition, has produced some of Latin America's best short-story writers. Jose Donoso and Jorge Edwards immediately come to mind. One cannot help but wonder why Colchie chose not to include them, as well.

The best represented area is Brazil. Colchie has provided a good selection of Brazilian authors, including the most internationally recognized--Jorge Amado, Clarice Lispector, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Lygia Fagundes Telles--and others who are less known to English-speaking audiences. One of the most delightful selections in this section is "Lonelyhearts," Rubem Fonseca's hilarious story about a police reporter who winds up writing a lonelyhearts column for a women's tabloid. One of the most disquieting is Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro's "It was a Different Day When they Killed the Pig." In this poignant story, witnessing the killing of a pig is a rite of passage during which a young boy must hide his revulsion in order to prove his manhood. The murder of the pig becomes a powerful metaphor for other kinds of brutality, to which we choose to close our eyes and to repress our horror, even though, deep inside, we are sickened and saddened.

Strangely, Mexico is represented by only two authors, Carlos Fuentes and Juan Rulfo, while the Caribbean is represented by six. Colchie might have selected stories by Rosario Castellanos, Elena Poniatowska or another of Mexico's fine women authors to fill out the section. In addition to Garcia Marquez, Rosario Ferre, Reinaldo Arenas, Ana Lydia Vega, Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Alejo Carpentier appear in the section on the Caribbean, which contains some fine material from younger writers (Ferre, Arenas, Vega), but overlooks the contributions of some of the region's most highly respected older writers, such as Puerto Ricans Rene Marques and Emilio Diaz Valcarcel.

In spite of Colchie's rather arbitrary selection (Of course, all anthologies are arbitrary, since they depend on the tastes of the anthologist.), this book provides a respectable introduction to the Latin American short story. The material is varied and, for the most part, well translated. Perhaps Thomas Colchie will fill in the gaps in his next anthology.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Silva, Aroldo Souza
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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