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Companeros: An Anthology of Writings About Latin America.

An ambitious anthology that includes the writing of eighty-seven authors, Companeros is described by its editors as a work of "luxuriant diversity." This is not exactly true. Although the collection contains poetry, fiction, memoirs and descriptive prose by Canadians and Latin American immigrants to Canada, a common viewpoint unites many of these selections--so many, in fact, that at times the book reads like one long piece of political diatribe.

Of course, the themes of inequity, foreign manipulation, torture and revolution are inevitable because they reflect Latin American realities. However, there are other realities as well. Companeros pays little attention to the emerging middle class, to progress in health and education, to the growth of democracy, to the enduring strength of the family or to the beauty of the land. In spite of its rather one-sided portrayal of Latin America, Companeros contains some excellent writing. In his poem "Foreign Aid," with a few deft strokes Lionel Kearns conveys the attrativeness of the "soft life" in Latin America for "foreign experts" who enjoy the benefits of a classist, racist society while remaining insensitive to the resentment of the masses. In the selection from "Le Pays Saint," the Quebeccois poet and anthropologist Luc Racine, evokes the ancient Mexican civilizations while censuring the "European exterminators." In her short story "Guatemala," Lesley Kruger paints a chilling picture of violence in Central America through the experience of a young photographer. "Tomtom Vaccine," a long poem by Hedi Bouraoui, exposes the despair and festering anger of the people of Haiti, where "Everything is taken lightly/ the only way to avoid suicide."

One of the most beautiful pieces is the excerpt from Incas and Other Men, by George Woodcock, one of Canada's most respected men of letters, known for his prize-winning biography of George Orwell as well as his treatises on social history, travel books, and poetry. In this selection, a description of a trip to the Huancayo market in Peru, Woodcock captures the dignity of the Indians, the disdain of the mestizos and cholos (assimilated Indians) for the native cultures, and the colors and array of products in the feria.

The selections on Chile dwell heavily on the Pinochet coup and on torture. The excerpt from Coming to Jakarta by Peter Dale Scott deals with CIA involvement in the overthrow of Salvador Allende. Leandro Urbina's "Our Father Who Art in Heaven" depicts the interrogation of a child. Jose Etcheverry's poem "The Torturer" exposes the dehumanizing nature of torture, which reduces men and women to "masks ready to fall."

Humor is rare in this collection, although there are a few light-hearted pieces. Daniel Inostrosa's poen "Soccer Love," draws comic parallels between romance and sport. Rodrigo Gonzalez' description of an elementary school class' experience at the circus is warm and funny--a welcome relief from the heaviness of much of the book.

Companeros provides a nice balance between the work of established authors such as Margaret Atwood, known primarily for her novel The Handmaid's Tale, and that of newer authors. Half of the selections included in Companeros are translations from French or Spanish. In spite of its limited political perspective, the anthology brings together an impressive body of writing on Latin America, much of which was previously unavailable to English-speaking readers. Furthermore, it focuses attention on the growing interest of Canadians in the Spanish-speaking world, as well as on the growing Hispanic minority in Canada.
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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1991
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