Both of these books are generally well-written and interesting studies in the literature, politics, and history of Latin America. Though eclectic, they have a few unifying themes. Stavans is fascinated by borderlands of all kinds, from the contested territory between nations to the intersections between academic disciplines. A Mexican of Central European descent now teaching at Amherst College, Stavans is especially interested in the writings of people who live between two or more different cultures. Of greatest interest to historians are Stavans’s explorations of the frontier between literature and history.

At their best, these books offer insightful new readings of the ways in which literature has shaped the history of Latin America, from the moment Columbus read Marco Polo to the years Gabriel García Márquez has spent as an informal advisor to Fidel Castro. Nevertheless, the essays that make up these books are...

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