Bolivia Literature

By | December 10, 2021

Two fundamental lines define the Bolivian literature of the last twenty-five years: on the one hand, the continuation of the modules of realism that have permeated all the production of this century and, on the other, the formal renewal. Realist literature (with its labels of “indigenist” and mine), while substantially changed in the form and use of language, continues to dominate the cultural scene of a country in which literary communication, strongly linked to the context, is still an instrument of denunciation.

The Chaco War (1932-35), the MNR with the consequent nationalization of the mines (1952) and the agrarian reform (1955), together with the Che Guevara guerrilla movement, still constitute points of reference in Bolivian literary discourse. In recent years, in the wake of continental trends, the theme of the city has been added to these themes. The traditional structures of narrative are replaced by more varied and technically more elaborate registers. For Bolivia 2018, please check

Among the most important works of the novel’s renewal we remember Cerco de penumbras (1958) by O. Cerruto (1912-1981) and Los deshabitados (1959) by M. Quiroga Santa Cruz (1931-1980). In Cerruto the everyday is seen through the filter of the dream, nightmare and mental illness. Quiroga Santa Cruz’s imagery instead invests the path of a lucid and atheist conscience, which clashes with the conventions of religion and society. Its sober and precise language is the most evident sign of the process of renewal of the Bolivian narrative discourse.

As for the indigenist current – always on a line of critical realism – in which the dominant themes are the “before” and “after” of the agrarian reform, the figure of the novelist and essayist J. Lara emerges. Bilingual writer, profound connoisseur of the peasant culture of the Cochabamba valley, he entrusts to his works not only the condemnation of the exploitation of the Indian by the white, but also that of the cholo (the “mestizo”), who adhered to the culture of the first. In her trilogy, which began in 1959 with Yawarninchij, nuestra sangre and completed by Sinchicay (1962) and Llalliypacha, tiempo de renacer (1965), Lara elaborates a critique of the situation of the Quechua peasantwhich, despite the expectations created by the land reform, continues to live in desperate conditions. Previously Lara had established herself with Repete. Diario de un hombre que fué a la guerra del Chaco (1937), Zurumi (1943), Yanacuna (1952) and Suymapura (1971).

For the so-called mining narrative we point out N. Taboada Terán, author of El precio del estaño (1960), and R. Poppe, who in the novel La Khola (1978) chooses the infernal bowels of the mine as environment. The novelty of Poppe’s novel, however, does not consist in moving from the outside to the inside of the mine, but in the investigation of this underground world, governed by very particular laws, with analyzes of psychoanalytic derivation as well.

The events linked to Che’s guerrilla warfare are instead the subject of the novel Los Fundadores del Alba (1969) by R. Prada Oropesa (b. 1937), in which the Christian message is intertwined with the revolutionary one; while the most important novel on the MNR revolution is Los muertos están cada día más indóciles (1972) by F. Medina Ferrada. A. Von Vacano combines the themes of guerrilla warfare, Los réprobos (1971), with the analysis of the personal stories of the individual in relation to the urban fabric of La Paz in Sombra de exilio (1971), El apocalipsis de Antón (1972) and Morder el silencio (1980).

Bolivian theater did not have the development that the generations of the late 19th century had hoped for. In the 1950s we can see an attempt to renew the old tradition with the works of authors such as E. Vaca Guzmán, VH Villegas, F. Medina Ferrari and G. Francovich. But it is since 1967 that the national theater leaves traditional schemes. Among the most important playwrights we remember S. Suárez Figueroa (1923-1968), author of La peste negra (1967); G. Suárez (b.1928), R. Crespo, famous for his trilogy La plaza de maíz (1969), La promesa verde (1972) and Alfarero de marzo (1973).

The panorama of Bolivian opera is rather poor. Among the most representative poets we remember O. Cerruto: among his particularly significant collections Estrella segregada (1973) and Cántico traspasado (1976). J. Sáenz (b. 1921) is a refined poet who contributes to renewing Bolivian poetry, still linked to residues of modernism despite the innovative contribution of Cerruto himself. Sáenz manages to create luminous poetic constructions especially in Recorrer esta distancia (1973) and Bruckner, las tinieblas (1978). Among the poets of the last generations we remember P. Shimose (b.1940), author, among other things, of Poemas para un pueblo (1968), Quiero escribir pero me sale espuma (1972) and Reflexiones Maquiavélicas (1980).

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