Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Lost Steps is Carpentier’s most important work, and it represents a turning point in his development as a writer. Latin America in the 1940’s beckoned to avant-garde writers as a place of artistic and spiritual rebirth. Carpentier took the surrealist concept of magic realism and attempted to redefine it as a purely Latin American phenomenon. His theories were published in the form of a prologue to El reino de este mundo (1949; The Kingdom of This World, 1957). In The Lost Steps, Carpentier confronts this issue directly within his narrative; the protagonist struggles to come to terms with questions regarding the origins of language and tradition. El siglo de las luces (1962; Explosion in a Cathedral, 1963) represents a further attempt to write Latin American fiction based on the history of the New World. In El recurso del método (1974; Reasons of State, 1976), Carpentier paints a hilarious yet biting portrait of a Latin American despot caught between his European pretensions and the reality surrounding him.

The Lost Steps is often mentioned as one of the forerunners of the “boom” in Latin American literature, the explosion of literary activity in the 1960’s and 1970’s—writing, publishing, and translating—that brought authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges to the attention of readers outside Latin America. Finally, the language of The Lost Steps, rich in metaphor and cultural allusions, is as dense and prolific as the jungle it describes, making the novel a primary example of the Latin American neo-Baroque.