Professor Monegal has organized this gigantic anthology, which reaches from the time of Christopher Columbus to our own decade, on the premise that ""Latin American literature is more an idea than an actuality, simply because Latin America itself has never achieved cultural integration."" True enough, as the reader of any daily newspaper might guess; but Monegal goes further. His selections demonstrate that it wasn't until the middle of the 19th century, when a late-blooming variety of European Romanticism combined with newly achieved Latin American political independence, that the intention of a Latin American literature was even conceived. Then the letters and journals of Vespucci, Bernal Diaz, and their fellow explorers and conquistadors, with their Renaissance insistence on the fabulous, came to serve as a source for the continental vision of men like Andres Bello, Ruben Dario and Jose Enrique Rodo. Independence movements also produced political divisiveness and a backwater brand of literary realism that prevailed for decades; but in spite of this, the tendency of Latin American literature has been toward the marvelous and the formally experimental, and its most compelling metaphor, from Esteban Echeverria to Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Marquez, has been that of discovery. Nearly half the book is devoted to the work of modern writers, whose traditions and proccupations are finally becoming cohesive. Monegal's introductions to his selections are cogent and informative, but are merely prefatory: they don't tell us nearly as much about this enormously diverse continent as we would like to know.