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Landscapes of a New Land: Short Fiction by Latin American Women.

Landscapes of a New Land is a welcome addition to the growing number of anthologies of works by Latin American women. Chilean critic Marjorie Agosin includes in her collection twenty-two women writers from a variety of countries. Some, such as Brazilian Clarice Lispector, Chilean Maria Luisa Bombal and Argentine Luisa Valenzuela, have won international acclaim, while others are virtually unknown outside their native lands.

With a few brilliant, isolated exceptions, Latin America produced few women writers prior to the twentieth century. The thirties and forties saw a marked increase in writing by women, as novelists such as Marta Brunet, Maria Luisa Bombal, Silvina Ocampo, and Clarice Lispector achieved success with technically and thematically innovative new works. Since the seventies, there has been a veritable explosion of fiction by women, as well as a renewed interest in the previous generation. Agosin attempts to explain the first of these developments in her introduction: ". . . with the advent of authoritarian governments in latin America, women have left the private spaces of house, church, and marketplace to begin to poeticize their experiences through the written word that had previously been denied to them." The explanation falls short, since authoritarianism is certainly not new to Latin America, while the burgeoning of writing by women is. Nevertheless, Agosin is right to call attention to this important phenomenon. Although she has included several representatives of the older generation in her anthology, her emphasis is on the younger writers, most of whom were born in the late thirties or forties.

The stories cover diverse topics, from marriage to politics, from children to intellectual ennui. Several are stylistically experimental, employing techniques associated with the New Narrative. Many explore in one way or another male-dominated Latin culture. One of the most mordant is Brazilian Nelida Pinon's "I Love my Husband," a cynical portrait of marriage among the bourgeoisie. Reduced to an accessory in her husband's life, yet expected to feel grateful for the privilege of serving him the protagonist betrays a growing resentment of her stifling environment. "An Open Letter," by Helena Araujo, focuses on human rights violations and political corruption in Colombia, and one woman's decision to fight back. "The Museum of Futile Endeavors," by Uruguayan Cristina Peri Rossi, is a gently humorous tribute to the human spirit, especially to the tenacious optimism (or foolishness) that causes men and women to pursue their dreams, no matter how absurb. The selection by Margo Glantz, taken from her book Genealogies, is a recollection of her Jewish girlhood in Mexico.

In spite of the breadth of this anthology, there are important omissions. Although Agosin has published articles on Isabel Allende elsewhere, she includes none of her stories here. Just as curiously, she excludes other prominent fiction writers such as Mexicans Rosario Castellanos, Elena Garro, Josefina Hernandez and Angeles Mastretta, and Puerto Ricans Rosario Ferre and Ana Lydia Vega. In fact, the entire Caribbean region is badly neglected; it is represented by only one writer: Dora Alonso. Agosin has another anthology scheduled for publication this year. Perhaps it will fill in some of the gaps.

Another weak point is the unevenness of the translations, some of which where not done by professional translators. A few, such as those by Giovanni Pontiero of the stories of Patricia Bins and Lygia Fagundes Telles, are exceptionally smooth and idiomatic. Others, such as that of Agosin's own introduction, are less successful.

In spite of its flaws, Landscapes of a New Land provides a useful overview of short fiction by Latin American women. And then again, what anthology is really complete?

Barbara Mujica is a novelist, short-story writer, and essayist, as well as an associate professor at Georgetown University, where she teaches Hispanic literature and directs El Retablo, a Spanish-language theatre group.
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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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