Critical Context

The publication of Paradiso launched Lezama into international fame. Prior to the novel’s publication, Lezama was virtually unknown outside Cuba, where he was known as a major poet, essayist, and the founder of Orígenes, the most important literary journal in the years before the revolution. Paradiso, which was read and praised by leading Latin American writers such as Julio Cortázar, Octavio Paz, and Mario Vargas Llosa, earned a place for Lezama among the writers of the “Boom” of Latin American literature.

Although Paradiso has been hailed by novelists and critics as a seminal work that offers previously unsuspected rich avenues for the development of the novel, it has never enjoyed a wide readership. Indeed, the novel’s great originality and richness has also been its bane; Lezama’s highly metaphorical language, his idiosyncratic handling of characterization and plot, and his mysticism have presented insurmountable obstacles for many readers. Paradiso has also elicited heated polemics because of its treatment of sex and of homosexuality in particular, and it has been attacked on political grounds as well; upon its first publication in Cuba, it was received by some as a counterrevolutionary work.

Nevertheless, Lezama’s first novel is firmly entrenched as one of the classics of Latin American literature. Oppiano Licario (1977), an incomplete continuation of Paradiso, was published posthumously.