Inspired by the Quincentennial attention to the voyages of Columbus, this hefty volume contains 36 articles on the colonial literature of Latin America. Most of the contributors are Hispanists currently teaching in North American institutions; the rest are scattered throughout the Western Hemisphere. If this collection is any indicator, colonial literature is not sulfering from neglect at the end of the twentieth century.
As might be expected in such a collection, diversity is the most common thread linking the contributions. Geographically, most of the articles focus on Spanish America, but three excellent studies of Brazilian colonial literature by Constance Gabrielle Janiga-Perkins, Roberto Reis, and Lúcia Helena Costigan also appear. Literature written in Peru and New Spain monopolizes the contributions, yet the Caribbean, Venezuela, and Chile also earn some attention. Notably absent are any studies dealing with Central America, Colombia, and the La Plata region.
Thematically, these studies demonstrate the importance of new approaches to colonial literature without ignoring the more traditional types of questions. The editors include two feminist studies of the works of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and María de San José, plus others dealing with broader subjects. Alfredo A. Roggiano and Julie Greer Johnson offer two inquiries into humor in colonial writings. Easily a dozen contributions survey the role of the Indian; in one of these, Rolena Adorno presents an insightful analysis of the appearance of the indigenous “trickster” common to the western tribes of the United States in the Naufragios of Cabeza de Vaca.
As with any collection so broad and diverse, this one provokes the question of why the editors chose some of the contributions. For example, they include a study by Carmen Bustillo on Alejo Carpentier and his Arpa y la sombra, modern Cuban fiction about colonial topics. The rest of the studies deal with works published during the colonial period; so this piece seems worthy of publication but misplaced here. Several works center on sixteenth-century books written in French or German about travel and adventure in Latin America. Are these really part of Latin American literature? These caveats aside, however, Crítica y descolonización is a valuable tool for assessing the present state and variety of literary criticism concerning colonial Latin America.