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Latin America in Print

ISSUE:  Autumn 1943

Ecuador: Portrait of a People. By Albert B. Franklin. Doubleday, Doran and Company. $3.50. Chile: A Geographic Extravaganza. By Benjamin Su-bercaseaux. Translated by Angel Flores. The Macmillan Company. $100. Chile. By Erna Fergusson. Alfred A. Knopf. $3.50. Brazil in the Making, By Jose Jobim. The Macmillan Company. $3.50. The Wind That Sxvept Mexico. By Anita Brenner and George Leighton. Harper and Brothers. $3.75. The Battle fur Buenos Aires. By Sax Bradford. Harcourt, Brace and Company. $2.50. 7Vi<? Other Americans. By Edward Tomlinson. Charle9 Scrib-ner’s Sons. $3.00. The Amazon: The life Story of a Mighty River. By Caryl P, Haskins. Doubleday, Doran and Company $4.00. Rio Grande to Cape Horn. By Carleton Beals. Houghton Mifflin Company. $3.50. South American Journey. By Waldo Frank. Ducll, Sloan and Pearce. $3.00. Letters from the Argentine. By Francis Herron. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. $3.00. The Japanese in South America. By J. F. Normano and Antonello Gerbi. The John Day Company. $1.75.

The reign of the doctrine of the Good Neighbor over the affairs of the hemisphere continues to produce books. Judging from the library shelves among which I browse, I conclude that more books have been published during the past five years on the doings and strivings of the Latin Americans than were published during a full one hundred years before the present cloudburst of continental affection. As I look at the armful of recent books which the editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review pushes towards me, I am impressed not only with the poundage but with the quality. Books on Latin America are getting better. Last year there were a number of cute little tidbits on the Caribbean moon, the Mexican tortilla, and the harbor of Rio which led to unholy laughter. Today’s output has more content.

One encouraging aspect of the present crop of Latin Americana is the indication that writers are being cured of the notion that all Latin America, all twenty countries, must be crowded between the covers of each book. Increasingly, writers are contenting themselves with one country, and settle down to tell us about that country and its people.

There are a number of such books on this list. Here is Anita Brenner, with “The Wind That Swept Mexico,” a swift and moving account of the revolutionary years since 1810, written by one who knows that land and its leaders, and who speaks with sure comprehension of their hopes and fears. George Leighton collected the photographs which tell in unforgettable fashion the story of politics, oil, land, war, church, school. The combination yields a book which tells more about Mexico than any since Ernest Gruening’s “Mexico and Its Heritage.” Ecuador has long been ripe for some sympathetic hand. Albert Franklin, who spent two years in that land, and who became more Ecuadorian than the Ecuadorians, has turned the trick in “Ecuador: Portrait of a People.” He leads us in casual fashion from village to village, over long hard country roads, up the Guaymas River, into Ambato, Cuenca, Otavalo, Guayaquil, Quito. He helps us to see Ecuadorian life as it is, with its tears and laughter, courage and hope. Then, there are two excellent books on Chile. Benjamin Subercaseaux’s lighthearted book on the geography of Chile, which has enjoyed great popularity among his countrymen, has been well translated by Angel Flores as “Chile: A Geographic Extravaganza.” He makes you feel the desert of the North, “the land of tranquil mornings”; the valley of Santiago under Aconcagua, “the land of the snow-capped wall”; the lake country, “the land of the blue mirrors”; the dark, wet South, “the land of the twilight night.” It is more than a book about geography—it is Chile turned inside out. Erna Fergusson, who has proved her worth as an interpreter of Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, now offers her book on Chile. Miss Fergusson has the gift of understanding all manner of persons, and she exercises this gift to good effect in introducing the shop-girl, the chauffeur, the society woman, and many other people in modern Chile. Jose Jobim’s “Brazil in the Making” is another sort of book, a book hard with facts about the economy of that empire of which he is a citizen. Here is the story, well-packed and documented, of what is happening in the production of coffee, sugar, rubber, oils, nuts, and a thousand other products of the Brazilian soil; of the industries which grow every day; of the critically important metals and minerals which are being uncovered; of the economic present and the economic future of an immensely rich area.

Argentina gets attention from Sax Bradford in his “The Battle for Buenos Aires.” Much that he tells is already familiar: the activities of German agents through the press, movies, radio, espionage; of the strong massing of German power through an organization which covers the republic; of the home-grown fascists, inspired by admiration for German ways and by loyalty to the reactionary rule of Francisco Franco in Spain; of the strong democracy which pervades the rank and file of the middle ciass and the industrial workers. Mr. Bradford has gathered up this story with skill and accuracy. He could not know that before his book would appear the weak Castillo would be supplanted by a military junta far more reactionary than the Castillo group. However, the events of June, 1943, make Bradford’s words all the more important.

There are also a number of general books in the current crop. Caryl P. Haskins’ “The- Amazon” is a formidable volume in which, with painstaking zeal, the author has sketched in the life and meaning of the Amazon country; and then, for good measure, included generous accounts of the history and social patterns of the six nations whose territories are tapped by the Amazon and its tributaries. The reader will find much to reward him in Mr. Haskins’ account. However, the pattern which Mr. Haskins has used is somewhat artificial. While it is true that the lands of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia have large areas which drain off into the Amazon, those countries cannot properly be regarded as belonging to the Empire of the Amazon. Venezuela belongs to the Caribbean and the Orinoco; Colombia to the Caribbean and the Pacific; Ecuador and Peru to the Pacific—their sparsely settled trans-Andean territories look towards the Amazon, but the life of the people has little connection with that river. Bolivia belongs to the Amazon land, but also to the Rio de La Plata system. Furthermore, I wish that Mr. Haskins had not made the common mistake of confusing Spanish names-he calls Garcia Moreno, “Mr. Moreno”; Guzman Blanco, “Mr. Blanco”; Garcia Calderon “Mr. Calderon.” It would be just as accurate to refer to Franklin Delano Roosevelt as “Mr. Delano.” People hate to have their names misprinted. Then, the versatile and indefatigable Edward Tomlinson contributes an immense amount of interesting information on all twenty Latin American countries and peoples in his “The Other Americans.” This will be read with delight by all who have journeyed to these various lands. Tomlinson is a bit over-polite to my taste; he writes in such fashion as to make himself equally popular with the American Department of State and with President Vargas. He gets into no controversies, meanwhile dealing with an area which is ripped wide open by controversy. He moves pleasantly along on the surface and does not dig into the clashes between the angry poor and the contented rich, 1 tentatively submit this thesis—that any book worth its salt on Latin America should make someone mad, and at least lead to its author’s temporary or permanent disbarment from one or another country. Carleton Beals’ “Rio Grande to Cape Horn” is another book which covers a good deal of territory. Beals possesses a distinct advantage over most writers on Latin America in that he has blistered his feet over more of Latin America, and for longer periods, than almost any of his fellow craftsmen. Furthermore, Beals really knows Spanish down to the last oath; too many of our rambling experts talk Spanish the way the visiting schoolma’ams used to talk French in Paris. More important, Beals knows the underdogs of Latin America, and does not write his books from the Hotel Reforma, the Hotel Granada, the Hotel Bolivar, the Hotel Crillon, the Hotel Plaza, the Hotel Copacabana. In this latest volume, he tells a lot of recent history on Mexico which cannot be found elsewhere; he gives a lot of odd bits on people and leaders further south which furnish useful clues. One may quarrel with Beals, but one cannot disregard him.

Francis Herron’s “Letters from the Argentine” are just what they purport to be, letters written by a student who spent eight months in Argentina, studying in Argentine universities, associating with Argentine students and pro* fessors. It is a social document of great importance, bringing the sort of interpretation denied the facile traveler with an assignment to write so many words to order. It is an unhurried, frank, penetrating analysis of what many sorts of Argentines are thinking. It stands in vivid contrast to Waldo Frank’s “South American Journey,” which, for all its true observations on Argentine life, is spoiled by the author’s preoccupation with what Argentines are thinking and saying about Waldo Frank. The reading of the two books makes it clear that Herron went to ask the Argentines, Frank to tell them. Most of us finally like the askers better than the tellers.

“The Japanese in South America” is a little volume, but important. Dr. J. F. Normano analyzes the work of the 200,000 Japanese in Brazil, Dr. Antonello Gerbi deals with the 25,000 in Peru. Neither understates the seriousness of the threat from these huge blocks of Undigested aliens. Neither Brazil nor Peru quite knows what to do about them, but on the whole the situation seems to be well in hand. Should the war go in Japan’s favor, the threat of her nationals in Latin America might prove serious. But the war isn’t going that way; so for the time being, at least, these Japanese colonies are not a serious threat. However, they will have to be reckoned with when peace returns.

There are still many books, and better books, to be written on Latin America. Most of these will not be written without vigorous priming—financial and moral—of the prospective writers. In the field of economics, for example, there is still much digging to be done. McBride did a superb job in “Chile, Land and Society”; similar studies of the land system in some of the other countries still remain to be done, Biography is another field into which some aspiring writers should move. There are a number of rather inadequate studies of Bolivar, one or two on San Martin. There would be an appreciative reception for a series of well-wrought biographies of those two liberators, and of Sarmiento, Ri-vadavia, O’Higgins, Juarez, Marti, and others. But no writer without a private cache can take the time to do these jobs as they should be done. Here is the opportunity for the foundations to find their writers and put them to work.


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