In this critical study Susan Rotker, a Venezuelan professor of literature at the University of Buenos Aires, examines the influence of the Cuban José Martí on the literary movement of modernism. The author focuses on the essays Martí wrote for newspapers in the United States and Latin America from his base in New York City in the 1880s until his death in Cuba in 1895 in the Cuban war for independence from Spain. Modernism, a reaction to the literary school of naturalism, arose in the last two decades of the nineteenth century in France and flourished in the early twentieth century, especially under the leadership of the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío.

Rotker’s main thesis is that Martí's newspaper essays were of prime importance in promoting the development of modernism, with its emphasis on creativity, individualism, and subjectivity. Martí's contribution to modernism, especially through his poetry, has been widely researched. Rotker faults Martí's literary critics, however, for failing to produce in-depth studies of his journalistic contributions to modernism.

The author seeks to fill this void by examining, in six chapters, modern journalism as an art form; the relationship of modernism to the concept of modernity and to the romantic literary movement; the role of writers in Latin America; the place of journalism in Latin America and the United States and its meaning as a literary genre; and Martí's essays, reviewed in detail, with passages from some of his most femous ones, including "Coney Island” (1881), “Walt Whitman" (1887), “Ralph Waldo Emerson” (1882), and "The Charleston Earthquake" (1886). A concluding chapter revisits the author's thesis that Martí was above all a realist, not a romantic, and that his essays contained many of the features of style and content attributed to modernism. Rotker writes:

Redescubrir las crónicas modernistas, especialmente las de José Martí, no es sólo hacerlo justicia a una vasta producción literaria que transformó la prosa hispanoamericana, o participar del rescate que sólo en estos últimos años—luego de casi un siglo de indiferencia-permite recurrir a ella para rastrear el impacto que la modernización iba a producir en el sistema cultural de toda una época (p. 251).

Rotker has produced a scholarly, well-documented study that confirms her stature as a serious student of Martí and an advocate for journalism as literature. Because Martí's essays cover the leading personalities and events of his time, Rotker's book should interest political and social historians as well as students of literature. The bibliography is extensive and probably adequate for the focus of her study, but the Martí specialist will not find many of the references to be expected in a more comprehensive treatment of Martí.