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Regarding Media

Literary Leader Emerges in a Culturally Fused World

July 26, 2002|TIM RUTTEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not long ago, fusion cuisine and music seemed daring and exotic. Now, both are unremarked-upon staples of American life.

Fusion literature is the next new thing. Think of it as aesthetic blow-back the unlooked-for but delicious consequence of American popular culture's globalization.

Rayo--an imprint of HarperCollins--is one of the publishers in the movement's forefront, and this week it signed the edgy young Chilean author Alberto Fuguet to a two-book deal. Fuguet's new novel, "The Movies of My Life," which Rayo will publish in both English and Spanish, chronicles the family life of Beltran Niemeyer, an Encino-raised Chilean seismologist whose sense of reality derives from American B-movies such as "Earthquake!" and "Jaws 2." Fuguet's second book will collect a cycle of linked short stories titled "Hecho in the USA."

"Fuguet is a leader in the new wave of young Latin American authors," said Rene Alegria, Rayo's founder and editorial director. "Together, they are breaking the long-held stereotypes of what Latin American literature is. Fuguet demonstrates perfectly the bizarre cultural union which has only recently begun to weld together the aesthetics of North and South America."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 17, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 4 inches; 152 words Type of Material: Correction
Steinbeck work--A Regarding Media column July 26 in the Southern California Living Section misidentified John Steinbeck's first short story collection, "The Pastures of Heaven," as his first published book. His first published work was the novel "Cup of Gold."

One of the hallmarks of this new wave, according to Alegria, is its recognition "of American popular culture's amazing power to infiltrate all parts of the world." Fuguet is a particularly knowledgeable spokesman for that viewpoint, since he spent his childhood and early adolescence in the San Fernando Valley until his family returned to Chile. "Growing up in Encino and then going back to Santiago, he comprehends pop culture's American origins," said Alegria. "He also understands how it is imported into other societies and then transformed there in wildly unique ways. McDonald's, Nike, Michael Jordan in all their complexity are now amazing global presences. This fact has the power to elevate or depress, depending on your viewpoint."

Editorially, Rayo's own point of view represents a Latino-inflected synthesis of cutting-edge writing from both hemispheres. Among its American authors is Los Angeles' Yxta Maya Murray, whose forthcoming novel "The Conquest" already is gaining unusual attention.

"We're not even a year old yet," said Alegria. "The first of the 20 books we've published so far went into the stores last September, but we've already had two national bestsellers. I think our long invisibility as Americans created a kind of creative trench in which so many of our writers blossomed and from which they're now emerging fully formed and ready. We're trying to publish them in the way they should be published. That is to say, without losing sight of the fact that Latino American writing is, in the end, very American."

Fuguet is well known in Latin America as the editor of "Se Habla Espanol: Voces Latinas en U.S.A," an anthology of young writers from throughout Latin America who identify themselves as members of "McOndo," a playful conflation of the fast-food chain and Macondo, the fictional city in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's magic realist classic "One Hundred Years of Solitude." The anthology collects nonfiction pieces on the authors' experience of the United States and, in some cases, their view of U.S. Latinos.

The Chilean writer "has been anointed by many of these writers as the leader of their movement," said Alegria. "Alberto certainly has been the most vocal among them. Their influence already is being felt among the young Mexican writers, who call themselves the Crack school--for its position on cultural fault lines--and who have adopted the same literary ideology as McOndo. Basically, they are trying to capture what is real in contemporary South America and to bring its literature out of the shadow of magic realism. There's a great deal of joy in their writing. They understand that the globalization of art and culture destroys, and yet is so much fun.

"Alberto is an apt example of this school, which is the first to capture what the world of letters is really going through," Alegria said. "It is an experience that has not been focused upon, this creation of a new sensibility by the merging of North and South in the Western Hemisphere. The truth is that, today, you can travel from Santiago to Encino and--whether you speak English or Spanish--feel at home."

California Coast's Got

Another Steinbeck

Few names exert quite so powerful a claim on California letters as that of John Steinbeck.

It is testimony to his books' enduring power that, when we think of him, we mentally identify Steinbeck first as author of "The Grapes of Wrath" rather than as "the Nobel laureate."

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