Literary Memoirs

Frederick M. Nunn, Editor, Jose Victorino Lastarria, Author, R. Kelly Washbourne, Translator Oxford University Press, USA $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-19-511685-4
From Oxford University Press's Library of Latin America comes a significant but dry work about the formation of Chile's literary culture. Born in 1817, the year before Chile won its independence from Spain, Lastarria quickly rose through university ranks and became actively involved in the development of the country's culture. In his introduction, Nunn points out that, unlike most of the Latin American countries that broke away from Spain in the 19th century, Chile managed to create a stable government within the first 15 years of its independence. Nonetheless, Lastarria makes a point of reminding his readers that the transition was anything but smooth. In fact, the author was prompted to write his memoirs because Chilean historians only a generation younger than himself were already misrepresenting the country's history and misattributing its achievements. Lastarria sets the record straight: he provides a blow-by-blow account of the founding of the National University and the reform of the education system (which he helped move away from peripatetic, monastic style by promulgating less disciplinarian classroom techniques developed in France), and he recounts how writers began to develop the literary culture that eventually laid the path for future Nobel laureates Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. Lastarria's conscientious detailing of facts is a boon to scholars, but his writing is parched; though his political tracts are fiery enough, their melodramatic poetics are likely to put off modern readers. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
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