British Association for American Studies


Book Review: Latin American Documentary Narratives: The Intersections of Storytelling and Journalism in Contemporary Literature

Bloomsbury, £26.09


Liliana Chávez Díaz’s Latin American Documentary Narratives presents literary journalist’s stories and depicts them as heroes in their interviews as well as identifying the essential differences between fiction and nonfiction. The book covers a range of topics and events that took place from the 1950s up to the 2000s in Latin America, including social protests, dictatorships, natural disasters, crime, and migration.

Chávez Díaz argues that storytelling plays an essential role in communication among individuals, classes, and cultures, and, invaluably, reflects on the works of authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and Elena Poniatowska, Leila Guerriero and Santiago Roncagliolo. She argues that dialogue is the most basic form of communication and is an enigmatic way through which people transform real events into compelling stories. In the real-life world, virtual mediums have been increasing, giving rise to the development of ‘intelligent’ and affordable technologies of communication rather than reducing personal interactions, thus signifying the value of dialogue.

Latin American Documentary Narratives reflects the robust journalism of the 1960s journalists Rodolfo Walsh and Gabriel García Márquez. Their stories present the different approaches journalists take within censored environments and the use of literary strategies to reproduce real testimonies. The movements of the Peronist era during the 20th and 21st centuries, like the Tacuara Nationalist Movement and the National Justicialist Movement, have put a halt on journalism and the publication of free press stories in the newspapers, forcing writers to employ metaphors and allegories to indicate the facts. Chávez Diaz’s work provides a glimpse into political instability in the form of narratives, through which she provides insightful research that enriches the readers’ knowledge about recent historical events.

Apart from these journalists, Chávez Diaz has also embraced contemporary chroniclers and fiction authors of Latin America. She uses their writings to balance her own by sequencing the related contexts from history to the present, identifying the aspects of contemporary literature, and formulating them as attention-grabbing narratives. She has astutely transformed the explored events into a storyline that seizes readers’ attention immediately. Chávez Diaz’s research proficiently transforms risky campaigns of journalists by narrating them as stories in order to raise the issue of journalism, where a journalist is required to encounter risky facts and situations while collecting information, while navigating his own abilities as a writer.

Additionally, in Latin American Documentary Narratives, Chávez Diaz explores Latin American literary concepts in relation to Latin American journalism. For example, the term Crónica (a newspaper in Argentina) is widely discussed with respect to its literary relation with journalism and its importance in it. Similarly, the Latin American literary genre Testimonio (a kind of narration) is explained well, and its context towards the books over all subject and theme has been set up efficiently in order for the readers to grasp its importance. ‘Latin American literary journalists have created a self-referenced character for themselves, who is usually a trustworthy, cultivated, cosmopolitan, intellectual, middle-class, progressive, open-minded man (or sometimes a woman), who is interested in marginal people and social problems’.1 Rodolfo Jorge Walsh’s journey of journalism as well as his inquisitive and strange methods have been well defined in Latin American Documentary Narratives, essentially providing a new perspective to his stories. Likewise, the narrative of the contemporary author and journalist Elena Poniatowska and her early journalism activities have been encompassed exquisitely, including a detailed analysis of her stunning photography.

The memories and news of the journalists of the 1960 and their experimentation with truth and its effects have been conceptualised through short stories that demonstrate their struggle for freedom of the press and the right to truthful communication. ‘Real stories, told in a metafictional format, are indeed a ludic speech act that crosses the limits of conventional media’.2 An overview of writers Martín Caparrós and Juan Villoro, and their around-the-world reporting expeditions and related short narratives are illustrated authentically by a thoughtful author in order to enrich overall theme and style of the book. In the form of documentary narratives along with cultural context, Liliana Chávez Diaz presents a personified and humanised experience of Latin American writers who had to creatively navigate censorship and control over free press. Her literary research is a convincing attempt to collectively present true discourses and conventions of journalism. It provides real lived experiences to the readers about journalists’ adventurous journeys and the inimitability of their experiences, big and small. In short, it is a worthwhile book for readers of all kinds, but especially for those interested in journalists’ narratives of Latin America.


End notes:

  1. Chávez Díaz, Liliana. Latin American Documentary Narratives: The Intersections of Storytelling and Journalism in Contemporary Literature (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021), 38.
  2. Ibid., 182.

About the Author

Dr. Nidhi Kaushal is a researcher exploring the field of Leadership through the study of Creative writings and ancient Indian scriptures. She has identified the indigenous studies of literature and folklore related to Management.