As next week is the celebration of the Independence of Costa Rica (my country), I want to dedicate the Literature Post to novels and short stories written by Costa Rican authors. It is quite possible that some of them (if not all) have been read at school or high school, if you grew up in Costa Rica, but if not, then here I will comment on the most important novels and known in the Costa Rican literature. And just in case you have not read and/or didn’t have to read as homework, then I hope you find some of them interesting enough to read on your own without having to do it as a homework, but for the pleasure of reading and knowing a little about the literature of the country of Costa Rica.
Tales of Anguish and Landscapes
This is one of the great books of my country, Costa Rica, written by Carlos Salazar Herrera. I read this book when I was on High School. It was part of the Spanish class program. However, not matter that I had to read it as a school requisite, I enjoyed a lot my experience with the book. This book is an anthology of short stories, all written by the author. I always like to cite this book as our best example of tales similar to “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and/or “The Twilight Zone”, due the stories always have an unexpected twist at the end. Most of the stories are set in places far from the “civilized” cities, usually on jungles and rivers, using rural people as characters. I think that more than “Twilight Zone”, the stories fit more in the range of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” since there not any paranormal elements, but they indeed have a lot of suspense and unpredictable endings. I don’t know if this book is available in other languages. But definitely it’s one of the books that I recommend the most from the literature of my country.
This is a novel that I had to read as part of the Spanish program in high school.
Marcos Ramírez by Carlos Luis Fallas is easily explained as our local (Costa Rica) equivalent to Tom Sayer by Mark Twain. Both books are about the adventures of a boy living in the middle of a particular time of their nations.
The author, Carlos Luis Fallas, was a prolific writer and also was an active politician of my country (Costa Rica). He got the distintion of being named “Benemérito de la Patria” that it can be loosely translated to “Worthy of the Nation” that it’s a honor given by the Legislative Assembly to people who done something worhty of the recognition of the nation.
The title of the book, Marcos Ramírez is due the very name of the main protagonist of the story. Marcos is a small boy and the novel narrates his life in a Costa Rica of the early years of the 20th century.
The book is not political but in the middle of the adventures of Marcos, the reader can realize how was the political ambiance of the country, especially due strong episodes of the history of Costa Rica like the dictatorship of Tinoco brothers (1918) and later the war against Panama (1921).
However, all these “adult” events are watched through the eyes of an innocent kid, so you get a description of effects of those events without any political statement about it. Also this novel is an excellent way to know how was the life in Costa Rica on those years, how people lived, how was school life, how children played.
Indeed, Marcos Ramírez is one of the jewels of the literature of Costa Rica.
This lovely tale is one of the most important books ever written in my country, Costa Rica.
I read this book as part of the Spanish program in school.
Cocorí is named after a little Afro-American kid and his innocent adventures in the jungle of Limon, that it’s a province in the Caribbean zone of Costa Rica.
Joaquín Gutierrez, the author of this book, was a member of the Costarrican Language Academy and also he won the “Magón” Culture National Award (that it’s the highest honor gave by the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports, in Costa Rica).
The most popular edition of Cocorí is the one that along with the words by Joaquín Gutierrez, there are beautiful caricature drawings made by Hugo Díaz, a very popular artist and cartoonist from Costa Rica.
The story of Cocorí is a surreal tale full of sweet innocence love and a quest leading to the appreciation of life. Cocorí was playing in Limon, when a ship with “white” people arrived to the harbor and he was amazed since he never had met “white” people before. His curiousity made him to get into the ship and in there, he met a young girl with blond hair and blue eyes, something that Cocorí never thought that was possible to exist and in his innocence, he fell in love for the girl.
The girl gave him a rose, and in exchange, he promised to get a Tití monkey. However when he got back with the monkey, the ship had already left. Cocorí was heartbroken but at least he had the flower, but he sadly found out that the rose was withered. Cocorí couldn’t understand why the flower died so soon.
The young Cocorí begins a philosophical journey with the company of the jester Tití monkey and Doña Modorra, an old and wise turtle. They will meet several characters looking for an answer.
This book will put a sweet tear in your eye and a candid smile in your mouth.
The Snoopers of Paso Ancho
This is the masterpiece of Samuel Rovinski, a work that it has been a favorite to be played in theaters, and certainly one of the best books that manage to capture the idiosyncrasies of the Costa Rican people, that from a small and simple problem can ending to involve and affect an entire neighborhood with the help of timely misunderstandings of a trio of snoopers, those that abound in any country, and now with Facebook, no longer they occupy not even leave the house to keep up with all the gossip, but in this classic tale the “snooping” is displayed in the best tradition of the Costa Ricans in the “old-fashioned” way, getting out into the neighborhood, “tuning” the ear and entangling everything that they say mixed with their own prejudices and preconceptions. A comedy that portrays the communities of Costa Rica and to be honest, with all the good and bad that that implies, I sincerely hope that it never changes and we do not lose it, since it’s one of those things that make us Costa Ricans.
The Segua, also written as Cegua or even Tzegua is a legend with paranormal tone that has been adopted and naturalized in many Latin countries, mainly in Central America.
Alberto Cañas wrote the play “The Segua” based on the story of the legend more accepted as “true” in the Costa Rican folklore, set in the city of Cartago, telling the sad story of a young beautiful but narcissistic girl that after to rebel against the wishes of her mother, she was cursed to scare on the roads to all unsuspecting men whom won’t resist her charms but once in their horses up (or cars as they have been updating the legend) she will transform your beautiful face on the one of a mare from hell.
The Island of the Lonely Men
It is easily the best known literary work by Jose Leon Sanchez that chronicles the hardships and ordeals suffered by prisoners in the prison located on the island of San Lucas.
Narrated by using a perspective of first person, tells the story of a man, wrongly accused of murder, which is sentenced to hard labor in the island of San Lucas.
The book is brutally descriptive commenting about sexual practices (between men and also with animals) as well as the problems of lack of food, gangrene by too heavy shackling, and the brutality and abuse by guards.
Honestly I do not like this book, but it was this or “Juan Varela”, and that I like less that book, and at least “El Moto” has the panache to be regarded as the first novel of the Costa Rican literature, published in 1900.
“El Moto” was written by Joaquín García Monge and it tells the story of José Blas nicknamed “El Moto”, hence the title of the novel.
The book tells the romantic misadventure of José Blas, an orphan and poor farmer, who lives in “Dos Cercas” ( a town which is actual Costa Rica is named “Desamparados”), and he falls for the beautiful Cundila Guillen, daughter of the richest and most powerful man in town.
This is another work by the author Carlos Luis Fallas, also writer of “Marcos Ramirez”, previously discussed in this same post.
“Mamita Yunai” takes its title from the way it was called in Limon, the company United Fruit Company, in a form of pun.
The work is semi-biographical, as Carlos Luis Fallas, worked on banana plantations of the United Fruit Company, located in the province of Limón.
The novel uses to José Francisco Sibaja or “Sibajita” to his friends, as the main character and narrates his experiences exposing fraudulent acts in the voting centers in the area of Limón with the knowing of the local authorities, both political and police . Also accuses the inhumane conditions in which are forced the workers in the banana plantations under the control of the United Fruit Company.
Tales of my Aunt Panchita
This book is the masterpiece of Costa Rican writer Carmen Lyra, whose real name was Maria Isabel Carvajal Quesada. This book was published in 1920 and although it is very likely that Costarrican children will read it sometime in the course of Elementary School, that does not mean that you can’t encourage your children to read it before it would become something “mandatory” and in that way to develop an appreciation for reading national stories and not miss an important part of its their national ethnic identity.
The similarities of some of the stories with legends and/or tales in other countries is intentional, as it was one of the intentions of Carmen Lyra was to develop Costa Rican native stories that are universally enjoyed by children of the world but with a clear and relevant national sense in our Costa Rican environment.