The Bildungsroman a la criolla: Las batallas en el desierto and Un mundo para Julius

The transculturation of European literary forms in Latin American is by now a commonplace.  We think of the trope of the Latin American writer (Borges, for example) whose Americanness is reflected in a sort of all-knowing universality, the Popul Vuh and Flaubert.  Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1796) is generally considered to be the first coming-of-age novel, although it of course had its precursors. While the Bildungsroman emerged in Germany, it soon spread throughout Europe and the world.  Yet, for some reason, it is a relatively rare genre in Latin America.  Wikipedia’s list of 93 examples, from the twelfth century to the twenty-first, includes but three from the Spanish and Spanglish-speaking world: Lazarillo de Tormes, Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima, and Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street.  Two outstanding examples of the genre in Latin America are José Emilio Pacheco’s Las batallas en el desierto and Alfredo Bryce Echenique’s Un mundo para Julius.  The latter traces the coming-of-age of the supremely entrañable Julius in Lima who, although of the oligarchy, prefers to hang out with the servants, and who prefers to play the first half of a football match on one side and the second half on the other.  The former, in a much slimmer volume, tells the story of young Carlos in Mexico City at the very time when the ideals of the Mexican revolution are being laid to rest.  Both novels transcend the purely individual and can be read as commentaries on societies in transition.


  • Spanish American Studies