Sunday, January 28, 2007

Spanish Writers

My godfather once told me something about the differences between Guatemala (and all Latin American countries) and the United States. He said:

The big difference is that there is a lot of money in the US. Getting money is easy, they practically give it away because they can make money off the interest. So money isn't valued as much. Ideas, that is what is valuable. If you have great ideas, people will look for you and the money will follow. Here, in Guatemala, there is no money. You can't get a loan. So if you have some money, people look up to you, want to be around you. It doesn't matter that your ideas are terrible. Since you have the money, you have the power. That's the way it is.

I bring this up because today I'll start a book in Spanish I was given for Christmas. I don't read a whole lot in Spanish and I sometimes feel guilty about it. But on my way back from the gym today, I kind of thought out those feelings and came to some important realizations.

First of all, you have to know that most people in developing countries can't read or write. This is important because it causes those who do like to read (which is an even smaller minority of those that can read, sadly) to believe things about themselves that aren't true. Here in the US there are millions of people that love to read. And that's the end of it. But it seems that in Latin America the few people that like to read somehow believe that because they love to read they are somehow meant to write.

So you end up reading all this crap in both newspapers and books that, while not bad, reeks of one, general feeling: Ooooo, look at me, look at all the words I know and how I can put them together in highly intellectual ways. Look at me, aren't I a great writer!!

And maybe that's just me, but I hate that. Yes, OK, you can read and write, and you maybe even love to read and can appreciate the classics. OK. But please don't let that go to your head. It doesn't make you better than everyone around you. Smarter? More intellectual? More educated? Maybe in certain ways, but not in every way. It does not make you a better person.

Unfortunately, I haven't come across any spectacular, original, entertaining books in Spanish in a long time (and here I hope Tollo sets me straight, debunks this whole post, and lists a bevy of great, contemporary works). Yes, there are the classics: Borges, Marques, Asturias. OK, OK, yes. But it's totally different to read literature that is that old and read contemporary stuff.

The only book I can think of is The People of Paper, by a young Mexican writer. But it's in English. I've read a few books of the "new" authors that are supposed to be the next big rage. Mostly Guatemalans, but not all. Alberto Fuguet, Halfon, and others. They just don't move me the way some contemporary English writers do (Foster Wallace, Safran Foer, Eggers, etc.).

And here's the part where I kind of bail on this whole idea: maybe it's just that I can't enjoy literature in Spanish the way I do in English. It may be sad, but it could be true. Of that I'll never be sure.

Until then, this is the way I feel: highly educated people in countries like Guatemala have education, a love for books, and thus become a rarity where they live. So it's like my godfather said, they have the ability to write but they don't have a whole lot of original ways to say it. But people still say they are the "next big thing," since - hey - what else is there?

2 Comments:

Anonymous Tollo said...

I think the big problem isn't lack of talent in Latin American lit, it's more the lack of press it gets... For those of us living in the US, it's so easy to read online reviews, go to Borders or Barnes & Noble, check Amazon or the local library, to name a few things. But I run into the same problem every time I want to read in Spanish: How do I know what's good? How do I get it? Suppose I live in Guatemala (or any other country in Latin America;) I probably hear about most books through word of mouth, and I have to go look for them in bookstores that may or may not have them (since demand for literature isn't exactly ubiquitous.)

It's probably not so bad in larger, more developed Hispanic countries (think Argentina or Spain.) But I don't have a good answer for you... Other than a handful of authors (most of which wrote their stuff at least fifty years ago,) I just haven't read that much in Spanish either.

Damn this gringo cultural hegemony!

1:42 PM  
Blogger Carlos P said...

I knew I could count on an intelligent, thoughtful retort from Tollo.

It's a good point, and you would think that with the Internet this problem might be solved. But really, where can one go for an online community devoted to contemporary Guatemalan literature? And like you said, where would you buy it anyway?

1:46 PM  

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