Latin America's modern women writers

Other Fires: Short Fiction by Latin American Women, edited by Alberto Manguel. New York: Clarkson N. Potter. 224 pp. $9.95. Women's Voices from Latin America: Interviews with Six Contemporary Authors, by Evelyn Picon-Garfield. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1985. 189 pp. $21.50. The so-called ``boom'' of Latin American literature that erupted in the consciousness of North Americans in the second half of the 1960s, and included such authors as Gabriel Garc'ia M'arques, Carlos Fuentes, and Mario Vargas Llosa, excluded female authors. Although many women at that time were writing in Latin America, they remained essentially invisible on the international literary scene. There are many reasons for this invisibility, but one is that very few women authors are included in standard anthologies; another is the limited distribution of books by women authors. In short, women writers are simply not taken as seriously as men writers.

In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, interest in Latin American women writers burgeoned. For the first time, many of their works were translated into English, such as the novels and short stories of the Chilean Mar'ia Luisa Bombal, the Brazilian Clarice Lispector, and the Argentine Marta Traba, among others. Yet much work remains to be published in the original languages and to be translated into other tongues so that the invisible women writers of Latin American can finally be known in all their richness, diversity, and strength.

``Other Fires,'' edited by Alberto Manguel, is an excellent and varied anthology that combines an eclectic choice of voices of well-known and unknown women authors. There are 19 short stories revealing a variety of themes and styles, from a deep-rooted surrealism and fantasy (as in the work of the Argentine poet and short- story writer Alejandra Pizarnik) to Marta Lynch's down-to-earth story of a middle class woman in Buenos Aires involved with a married man.

Editor Manguel does a marvelous job in bringing out so many different forms of expression, thereby displaying a literature of dazzling variety. Many of the stories have a strong sense of humor, such as the one by the Brazilian Rachel de Queiroz in which a pompous literary critic accuses the writer of not knowing the meaning of the word ``metonymy.'' There are also haunting and lyrical visions, as in the story by In'es Arredondo that retells, or rather reinvents, King David's story of the young virgin. In Arredondo's story, ``The Shunamite,'' we see how the young woman from a small Mexican town becomes the victim of a male-dominated society.

These are indeed splendid stories by Brazilian, Argentine, Cuban, Mexican, and Uruguayan writers. As with all anthologies there are regrettable omissions. I feel that the Chilean Mar'ia Luisa Bombal should have been included. Yet ``Other Fires'' is important and will encourage readers to venture into the fabulous worlds of the no-longer silenced women authors of Latin America.

``Women's Voices from Latin America: Interviews with Six Contemporary Authors'' offers another kind of introduction to the world of feminine literature in Latin America. In these interviews, the authors speak of their environment and their particular situations as women writers. Picon-Garfield includes a brief description of the writer's works and life at the beginning of each interview. The authors interviewed, including Luisa Valenzuela (Argentina), Julieta Campos (Mexico), Marta Traba (Argentina), and others, give a vivid picture of their separate visions and of themselves. The questions are interesting and the dialogue fast-paced. Congratulations to those responsible for these volumes, for giving English-language readers an inspiring glimpse at the creative riches of Latin American women writers.

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