Accessible roundup of the evolution of modern Latin American political thought via the lives and convictions of key leaders and writers.
Mexican journalist and editor Krauze (Mexico: Biography of Power, 1997, etc.) shapes his work through an engaging mixture of biography and historical currents in the style of Isaiah Berlin or Edmund Wilson, thus allowing lay readers to follow what can sometimes be for the English reader a dizzying succession of revolutions, doctrine and caudillos. The author proceeds more or less chronologically, from the late 19th century to the present, from the lives of four prophets—the four Josés (Martí, Rodó, Vasconcelos and Mariátegui) through poet Octavio Paz, popular icons Eva Perón and Che Guevara, novelists Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa and present-day Venezuelan hero à la Bolivar, Hugo Chávez. In Martí, a Cuban-born New Yorker journalist advocating for Cuban independence, Krauze traces the beginnings of Latin American disenchantment with American-style freedom when the U.S. defeated Spain in 1898. The Generation of ’98 was galvanized by work such as Rodó’s Ariel, which reversed ongoing racist, imperialist theories by asserting the superiority of Latin American culture “over the mere utilitarianism espoused by the Caliban of the North.” Rodó’s emphasis on the education of youth, Vasconcelos’s fashioning of the Mexican foundation myth and Mariátegui’s affirmation of Peruvian indigenous culture and pride set the stage for the next generation’s Marxism ideology and revolution. While the poetry of Nobel Prize winner Paz would reflect both his sympathy for communism and later disillusionment with the Soviet Union, the sweeping prose of García Márquez and Vargas Llosa took on the mythopoesis of the dictator and revolutionary. Charismatically tragic figures like Perón and Guevara fulfilled themes of Christian martyrdom, while the postmodern Chávez reignites the cult of the leader, despite the promising evolution of electoral democracy in all of Latin America.
Krauze demystifies for his North American neighbors the crucial ideas that have shaped Latin America and rendered it distinct from the United States.