Alejo Carpentier Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Early in his career, Alejo Carpentier (kahr-pehn-TYAYR) published two volumes of poetry: Dos poemas afro-cubanos (1930) and, in French, Poèmes des Antilles (1931). He did not publish poetry after the early 1930’s, though some of his poems, particularly one or two in French, were quite good. Two of his poems from the Afro-Cuban period have been widely anthologized. Carpentier’s nonfiction works include La música en Cuba (1946; Music in Cuba, 2001), Tientos y diferencias (1964), and La novela latinoamericana en vísperas del nuevo siglo, y otros ensayos (1981). Music in Cuba is a beautiful book, combining Carpentier’s mastery as a narrator with a supple descriptive style. His essays in Tientos y diferencias were very influential among critics of the Latin American novel. Carpentier was known both as a writer and as a musicologist. He wrote the scenario for several Afro-Cuban ballets, most notably El milagro de Anaquillé (1928), and innumerable journalistic pieces on music and literature. From 1950 to 1959, he wrote a column on these topics for El nacional in Caracas, Venezuela. Carpentier’s short fiction deals with very large topics and spans of time rather than characters caught in daily existence—about great issues such as causality in history. Guerra del tiempo (1958; War of Time, 1970) is one of the best-known collections of short stories in Latin America as well as around the world.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

It can be safely said that Alejo Carpentier is the father of today’s Latin American fiction. All major Latin American novelists since the mid-twentieth century owe a great debt to him, and many, from Gabriel García Márquez to Carlos Fuentes, have acknowledged that debt. Carpentier had to pay out of his own pocket for the publication of his two early masterpieces, The Kingdom of This World and The Lost Steps, whereas today’s Latin American writers, particularly García Márquez, Fuentes, and Mario Vargas Llosa, can command enormous fees for their work. This they owe to Carpentier, who in 1958 was hailed as a master deserving of the Nobel Prize by a critic for The New York Times when most English-language readers had not heard of a single Latin American author.

Carpentier’s major achievement is to have made Latin American history the object of experimental fiction. Before The Kingdom of This World, major works of fiction had been produced in Latin America, as well as very important books of history, but no major prose writer had ventured to use Latin American history as the object of daring experimentation. Jorge Luis Borges had produced great short-story collections, such as Historia universal de la infamia (1935; A Universal History of Infamy, 1972) and above all Ficciones, 1935-1944 (1944; English translation, 1962), and Miguel Ángel Asturias had published, to great acclaim, his Leyendas de Guatemala (1930; legends of Guatemala), based on Mayan myths from his native Guatemala. There had also been great novelists of the pampa, such as Ricardo Güiraldes; of the Mexican Revolution, such as Mariano Azuela; and of the Venezuelan plain, such as Rómulo Gallegos. Carpentier managed to bring together the interests of the regionalist writers (Asturias, Güiraldes, Azuela) with Borges’s penchant for fictional games. The admixture is what has come to be known as Magical Realism, or the description of “marvelous American reality.”

Unlike writers such as Asturias, who in their fiction turned to Mayan or other indigenous Latin American myths, Carpentier focused his...

(The entire section is 886 words.)

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In contact with avant-garde groups in Havana and Paris, Alejo Carpentier wrote poetry as well as opera libretti and texts for other theatrical enterprises in his early years. Involved in publishing, broadcasting, and cinema for virtually all his life, he has contributed hundreds of articles of criticism on literature and the fine arts, especially music, some of which have been republished in book form. He is best known for his novels, which have been widely translated and studied.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Considered a pioneer and a continuing advocate of the New Novel in Latin America, Alejo Carpentier contributed a steady stream of fiction from the early 1930’s until his death in 1980. His wide scope of interests, which range from politics and botany to the mythology and music of primitive Native American civilizations, is evident in his highly complex novels.

In his famous and influential essay, “De lo real maravilloso americano” (1962; “On the Marvelous Reality of America”), which grew out of the prologue to El reino de este mundo (1949; The Kingdom of This World, 1957), Carpentier provides an alternative to the realistic “nativismo” style then popular in Latin American fiction and describes his theory of the quality of Latin American literature, which depicts a reality infused with magic and myth. In 1977, he was awarded the Cervantes Prize for literature by the Royal Academy of Spain.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What cultural and political obstacles hampered Alejo Carpentier in his attempt to capture the essence of Latin America in his writings?

How did Carpentier’s interest in architecture influence the structure of his literary work?

What information about Carpentier’s work might stimulate greater interest in it in the United States?

Determine whether “Magical Realism” is or is not a self-contradictory literary term.

What are the most important metaphors in The Lost Steps?


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Adams, M. Ian. Three Authors of Alienation: Bombal, Onetti, Carpentier. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975. Examines alienation as a literary theme in the works of María Luisa Bombal, Juan Carlos Onetti, and Carpentier, each of whom modifies traditional literary forms to present different aspects of the theme. Section devoted to Carpentier is subtitled “Alienation, Culture, Myth, and ’Marvelous Reality.’” Includes select bibliography.

Brotherston, Gordon. The Emergence of the Latin American Novel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Intended as an introduction to the Latin American novel, particularly from the...

(The entire section is 640 words.)