Mixtures of Reality and Poetry In Latin-American Literature

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SINCE the publication of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude" in 1970, Latin-American literature, particularly prose fiction, has enjoyed a high degree of visibility and success, not only in the Spanish-speaking world, but also abroad.

Latin-American authors have also influenced the works of North American writers with a poetical style that mixes reality and fiction. Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon," for example, and John Nichols's "The Milagro Beanfield War" both reflect this rich Latin-American form.

A Hammock Beneath the Mangos: Stories from Latin America (Dutton, 430 pp., $22.95), edited by Thomas Colchie, a distinguished translator of Latin-American fiction, depicts the vast landscape of Latin-American letters.

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Colchie organizes this anthology from a geographical viewpoint: The reader is immersed in a literary journey that begins with the River Plate region of Argentina and Uruguay; Chile is presented in a separate section, followed by Brazil. The last section deals with Mexico and the Caribbean.

Colchie's organization is interesting and well thought out. It enables the reader to understand the intricate complexities and vast range of Latin-American literature, while it addresses the difficulty of finding a common theme that unites the writers.

Most of the authors - such as Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar, and Horacio Quiroga - are well-known in the English-speaking world. But Colchie also includes less-known figures - Armonia Sommers and Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes, for example.

Brazilian writers are seldom included in Latin-American anthologies. Their work is superb, and the selections here include such grand masters of Brazilian letters as Jorge Amado, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, and Clarice Lispector.

"A Hammock Beneath the Mangos" is an important contribution to the already existing Latin-American anthologies of short stories - one that will give readers access to classic writers' best-known stories compiled in a single collection.

The works of Argentine Luisa Valenzuela and Chilean Isabel Allende are probably the most translated writings by Latin-American women. Valenzuela's work focuses on the political history of her native country, the use of experimental language, and women. She is perhaps best known for "Other Weapons," first published in the United States in 1983, a collection of allegorical tales depicting Latin-American political terror and oppression.

Her book "The Lizard's Tale," translated by Gregory Rabassa, was first published by Farrar Strauss Giroux, and a paperback edition has just been brought out by the British publisher Serpent's Tail. A highly complex work that combines the oneiric with the metaphorical, the book is a significant contribution to Latin-American fiction.

"The Lizard's Tale" is an allegory of Argentine political tyranny and has a central character called Brujo, or wizard, based on Isabel Peron's minister of social well-being. Lopez Rega, the narrator, depicts the wizard in a distorted fashion, showing his arrogance and corruption. Valenzuela tries to deconstruct the image of Rega in order to explain the political evil that surrounds him. No doubt, "The Lizard's Tail" is her most imaginative work to date.

Manuel Puig, a contemporary of Valenzuela as well as a native of Argentina, is one of the most innovative voices of Latin-American letters. He weaves movies, soap operas, and other popular Argentine cultural icons into his novels. The author of "Betrayed by Rita Hayworth" and the highly acclaimed book and film "The Kiss of the Spider Woman," he wrote his last novel, Tropical Night Falling (Simon & Schuster, 189 pp., $19), a year before his death in 1990.

In this book, which is translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, Puig tells of two aging Argentine sisters living in Brazil in self-imposed exile. They share a world of beauty, gossip, and political violence. Set in the luscious, tropical city of Rio de Janeiro, this book is similar to Valenzuela's in that it offers a metaphorical interpretation of chaos and violence that is universal in scope. The novel is powerful, well-written, and leaves a poignant legacy.

Second- and third-generation Cubans in the United States have often tried to capture their world of memories, exile experiences, and transculturation in their new country. Cristina Garcia belongs within this legacy. Her Dreaming in Cuban (Knopf, 244 pp., $20) is a lyrical tribute to three generations of a Cuban family during the turbulent years of the Cuban revolution and their later experiences as Cuban emigres in Brookline, Mass.

This first novel is original, humorous, and a contribution to contemporary Cuban-American literature.

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