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Excerpt: Anything but Novel: Pushing the Margins in Latin American Post-Utopian Historical Narrative —Jennie Irene Daniels

It has been more than twenty years since the emergence of Latin America’s “pink tide.” Significant social and political changes have occurred, but neoliberal capitalism has deepened regionally and globally in the intervening years. From within this context, past and present, I have written Anything but Novel. This book uncovers anew the enduring social potential of literary narrative, and particularly the tenacious insistence on sociohistorical criticism that Latin American post-utopian historical novels assert. I explore the evolution of historical novels and intellectual engagement in the region as well as the legacy of struggles for utopian ideals, and I examine a subset of four examples: César Ai­ra’s Ema, la cautiva (1978/1981, Argentina), Rubem Fonseca’s O Selvagem da Ópera (1994, Brazil), José Miguel Varas’s El correo de Bagdad (1994, Chile), and Santiago Páez’s Crónicas del Breve Reino (2006, Ecuador). These novels lay bare the underlying assumptions of accepted versions of history that reinforce the hegemony of capitalist modernization as a positive developmental force, revealing instead how, since the foundational years of the nation, economic structures have reinforced and exacerbated existing inequalities, resulting in racism and sexism that limit life possibilities. As context, I provide a brief overview of recent political events in these countries here.

While some speak of a Left-Right pendulum in Latin American politics, since the region’s transitions to democracy, most swings toward the Left have been arrested in the Center. As sluggish economies, inflation, persistent extreme inequality, and government policies further squeezed the disadvantaged, the austral spring of 2019 witnessed new skirmishes. Social responses with varying levels of coordination have won concessions and reversals of policies that disproportionately affected the poor and lower classes. Yet, the policies themselves and initial government reactions to demonstrations reveal how deeply ingrained neoliberal capitalism has become: when financial and ecological pressures reached a breaking point, people demanded redress, but amends thus far have only addressed the most recent, visible issues and left underlying processes and projects untouched. Under pink tide and leftist administrations, Latin America has benefited from an ameliorated capitalism, but capitalism nonetheless.

In Argentina and Brazil, citizens have been scrutinizing and putting pres­sure on their right-wing, pro-free-market presidents. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro (2019–2022), a nationalist espousing neoliberal policies, is a polarizing figure who has defended the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964–85) and its use of torture. Many claim his environmental deregulation and reduction of protections for indigenous groups have encouraged greater slash-and-burn clearing in the Amazon, which, in dry weather, often results in fires getting out of control. In early August 2019, after the National Institute for Space Research released a report about the alarming reduction in the Amazon’s size, Bolsonaro fired its director-general, claimed media reports of raging fires in the Amazon were fake, and then blamed environmental groups for starting the fires, sparking local and international outrage and protests. He later deployed military forces to control the fires. In spite of local and international pressure, at the time this book went to press, fires continued to burn at alarming rates, damaging, perhaps irreparably, the health of these lungs of the world.

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Jennie Irene Daniels is associate professor of world languages, literatures, and cultures at the College of Idaho.

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