What Chavez Should Have Given Obama
By Carlos Lozada
In the photo-op seen ’round the world, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez greeted President Obama at the Summit of the Americas this weekend with a gift copy of “The Open Veins of Latin America,” a 1970s tract of the old-school Latin American left. (The book, by Uruguayan journalist and novelist Eduardo Galeano, promptly shot up to No. 2 on Amazon.com’s sales ranking.) But is “Open Veins” -- a strident criticism of European and U.S. influence over Latin America -- really the best work Obama can read to understand the region’s realities? To find out, I asked five Latin American writers to each recommend one book they would want the president to read instead.
“2666: A Novel” (2008) by Roberto Bolaño
I would give President Obama the novel “2666” by Chile’s Roberto Bolaño. Aside from being a must-read work of contemporary literature, it offers all the clues to understand our continent: its contradictions, miseries (individual as well as collective ones), inequalities and capacity for redemption. It also reveals that stereotypical — and stereotyping — interest that Americans and Europeans have toward all things “Latin.” I hope that by reading this novel the president will transcend that logic and operate at a level commensurate with the expectations the world has of his capacity for reflection.
— Paula Escobar is magazines editor of the Chilean daily El Mercurio and co-author of “24/24: Un día en la vida de 25 mujeres chilenas.”
“The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Relationship with the United States” (1987) by Carlos Rangel (translated from “Del buen salvaje al buen revolucionario”)
Rangel’s skewering of the arguments blaming the United States and other industrialized countries for the ills of developing nations is a good antidote to Galeano’s babble. Obviously, foreign powers -- from Spain, France and England early on to the United States and the Soviet Union more recently -- have shaped Latin America’s politics and economics, often with dire consequences. But foreign interventions alone do not explain the continent’s backwardness. Why does Argentina sink while Brazil thrives? Why is Chile a prosperous democracy while neighboring Bolivia remains one of the poorest nations in the hemisphere?
Latin America’s problems were not made in Washington or London but primarily in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Caracas, Brasilia and in the rest of the region’ s capitals. Rangel stated this clearly when it was not fashionable to do so. Deeply depressed, he committed suicide in 1988.
— Moisés Naím, a Venezuelan, is the editor in chief of Foreign Policy and author of “Illicit.”
Update: In an earlier version of this post, Eduardo Galeano was incorrectly identified as a diplomat. He is a journalist and novelist.
The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry (2009)
I suggest a potent dose of poetry for a man who has shown himself to be an impressive wordsmith in his own right. No better way of falling in love with Latin America and understanding its despair and hope, its lustful richness and dark dreams, than an array of lyrical voices from that extraordinary continent. The torrent of Neruda, the intricacy of Vallejo, the fire of Sor Juana, the humor of Parra. There are many compelling collections available, but President Obama might do well to wait until June when The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry, a magisterial anthology, will be out.
— Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman is author of “Death and the Maiden” and “Heading South Looking North: A Bilingual Journey.”
“Man of Glory: Simon Bolivar” (1939) by Thomas Rourke
Although published 70 years ago, this book would go a long way to explaining contemporary South America to our new president. It’s all about the wars for independence, which were waged very differently in Latin America. Spain was a cruel and corrupt mother; the terrain on which the battle played out was wild and unforgiving; the leaders were all-too-human and flawed. Bolivar declared early on that Latin America could not possibly adopt anything like the U.S. Constitution, and liberation would never have been won without the sacrifices of all the races — black, white and indigenous, fighting side by side. The spirit of the people, the burdens of history, the prejudices that persist to this day. It’s all here.
— Marie Arana, a Peruvian novelist, is the former editor of The Washington Post Book World and author of “Cellophane” and “Lima Nights.”
“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (2007) by Junot Díaz
This novel is not only a delight to read, but it also shows the interconnectedness among the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. While telling the story of Oscar Wao’s family, Díaz shows the traumatic history of the Dominican Republic and the bittersweet life of struggling Latino immigrants in the United States. The writing is also a vibrant embrace of cultures: English fused with the energy of Spanish to create something new, something that belongs to the United States and to Latin America as well.
— Bolivian novelist Edmundo Paz Soldán is author of “The Lessons of Desire,” “Turing’s Delirium” and “Palacio Quemado.”
Carlos Lozada is deputy editor of the Outlook section.
| April 20, 2009; 4:20 PM ET
Categories: Lozada | Tags: Carlos Lozada
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