Published in The Bulletin of Latin American Research 31.2 (April 2012)
Ed. Stephen M. Hart and David Wood (2010) Essays on Alfredo Bryce Echenique, Peruvian Literature and Culture. London: Center of César Vallejo Studies. 139 pp
University of California, Merced
The strange title of this book responds to the fact that it is divided into two parts: while the first one contains an interview and four essays on the works of Peruvian author Alfredo Bryce Echenique read at the Cervantes Institute in London in October 2004 to honor the author’s visit, the second one includes four essays devoted to two Peruvian poets and Peruvian culture in general. The first three essays cover general topics and approaches in Bryce’s opus and, inevitably, coincide in several of them. As the title of James Higgins’s article, ‘Inadaptados en la ficción de Alfredo Bryce Echenique,’ indicates, it deals with the image of the social misfit. Like many studies on Bryce’s narrative, Higgings’s celebrates his oral style of writing. According to him, Bryce’s narrators seem to have a conversation with the reader and often abandon any pretension of being impartial. For different reasons, the protagonists of his short stories and novels are often people maladjusted to the societies in which they live.
In ‘La palabra de Bryce Echenique,’ César Ferreira analyzes Bryce’s depiction of the Peruvian middle class, both in Peru and abroad, as well as his exploration of the theme of love. This essay connects with the previous one in its emphasis on orality, humor, displacement, and the type of narrators chosen by the author, as well as on the characters’ inability to find a place where they belong: ‘Esta psicología del sujeto desclasado y solitario, sin un sitio seguro en el mundo, y la exploración de su extraviada peruanidad desde un mundo cultural distinto al propio será dos temas que Bryce desarrollará a plenitud en toda su obra novelística posterior’ (p. 18).
The third article, ‘El valor de lo popular en la obra de Bryce Echenique’ by David Wood, analyses the representation of indigenous characters as well as popular culture—including orality, street parlance, sports , television, soap operas, dance, and popular music, such as the bolero—in relation to personal and collective identity. In turn, the fourth article, the narratological study ‘Implied Reader and Narrator in Bryce’s El huerto de mi amada’ by Helene Price, concentrates on Bryce’s narrative techniques: the types of narrators and readers, the multiple narrative points of view, his use of orality, and the self-reflective nature of the novel. It also addresses Bryce’s parody of both high and popular culture, including theatre, cinema, melodrama, the thriller, and the detective novel. Price also notes the novel’s aural and visual narrative strategies, its intertextualities and intratextualities, Cervantine parody, heteroglossia, metanarration, and the role of popular culture and music.
David Wood’s interview with the author closes the first part of the book by providing an insight into the author’s perception of his own writing. Interestingly, some of Bryce’s answers would have upset his compatriot José María Arguedas, as happened when Julio Cortázar made similar remarks several decades earlier: ‘Europa se convirtió en la mejor escuela para mí de lo que era mi propio país’ (66). Bryce distinguishes his works from those of the Latin American Boom authors through the presence of irony and humor in his works, which creates fraternal links with the reader. He also claims that, except for Cortázar, Boom authors did not write about the cities where they lived, as he has done.
In a somewhat disconnected manner, the collection of essays is ‘rounded out,’ as Stephen M. Hart states in the prologue, with four essays. Whereas Jason Wilson’s ‘The Sole Surrealist Poet: César Moro (1903-1956)’ analyses the influence of French surrealism on the works of this Peruvian poet, David Bellis’s ‘“Yo no me río de la muerte”: The Poetry of Javier Heraud” focuses on political commitment in this poet’s opus. Moving on to Peruvian culture in a broader sense, Robert Barker’s ‘The ‘Disappeared’ Incas’ problematises John Rowe’s chronology of the Inca Kings, claiming that several figures in their lineage were eliminated. The essay that closes the book, Stephen M. Hart’s ‘Metaphor versus Metonym in Peruvian Culture,’ argues that metaphorical readings of Peruvian culture (as proven in the cases of the slums in the outskirts of Lima, the Republic, the Incas, César Vallejo’s poem ‘Intensidad y cultura’, and José María Arguedas’s novels) have given the impression of an erroneous homogeneity.
Overall, the three first essays of the collection, which give the reader an idea of the main characteristics of Bryce’s fiction, seem somewhat redundant. As stated, the essays in Part 2 seem disconnected from the first ones, hence giving the impression that they were included because otherwise the book would have been too small. However, perhaps the most insightful essay in the collection is the last one, which uses four cases to prove his point about the tensions arisen when analyzing Peruvian literature through the lens of metaphor or that of metonym.
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