Regrettably, the title and jacket blurb encourage the reader to expect far more than the author ever intended for this modest manual that might well have borne the more appropriate and less deceptive label, “Essays on Selected Spanish American Writers of our Time.” Actually, as Corvalán himself states in the preface, the material grew out of a course dealing with some 20 major figures of Spanish American literature who produced their most significant writing between World War I and World War II. The author disarms us at the outset by asking us not to quarrel with him over the omission of many of our favorites. And certainly no one would deny a spot for González Martínez, who “opened the way for post-Modernism.” Equally deserving of a chapter apart are the four women (Agustini, Mistral, Ibarbourou, and Storni) who kept poetry on a high and even keel during the ultraísta outburst. The only voices to speak for the newer esthetics in poetry and prose are those of Neruda, Vallejo, and Asturias, here presented as surrealists. Henríquez-Ureña, Reyes, and Vasconcelos are the author’s choice of essayists who wrote “with passion of America.” And as for prose fiction there is no surprise in encountering once again the “classic” novelists of the past half century: Azuela, Güiraldes, Rivera, Gallegos, Barrios, Ciro Alegría, Uslar-Pietri, and Mallea.
The essays are uneven, hut all have one commendable trait in common: in each it is the author as a writer, and not as a man, that is of primary concern. Corvalán may not cast his chosen few in a new or different light, but in the several pages assigned to each he does emphasize language, style, imagery, characterization—all that serves to bring out the salient features of a writer’s individual manner and expression. One should not look, then, for a scholarly study or a thorough analysis and critique of a period in the development of contemporary Spanish American literature that has been widely and, we must admit, inadequately and unimaginatively characterized as “post-modernist.” Corvalán has not suggested a new approach toward a better understanding of those complex and contradictory years. But, after all, this was not his purpose. He did not intend this little volume to be anything more than “un tratado con pretensiones didácticas” (p. 20).