Fabla salvaje. César Vallejo. Lima: Universidad Ricardo Palma. Edited by César Ferreira. 2020. 49 pages.
First editions of literary texts that at one time appeared in periodicals for a general readership, and that are destined for newsstand shelves or special editions, have become important literary works in their own right. Sometimes a copy of such editions makes its way into the hands of a reader who has rummaged through stacks of books or who has a brilliant conversation about the author. In the present review, we consider this very topic: a discovered copy of the first edition of César Vallejo’s 1923 Fabla salvaje that made its way from novelist Edgardo Rivera Martínez’s hands into those of César Ferreira, professor of Latin American Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Thanks to Ferreira and Dr. Iván Rodríguez Chávez, Rector of the Universidad Ricardo Palma in Lima, the original edition of Fabla salvaje is currently available as a facsimile edition. Consequently, Vallejo’s first novel has become an original and multipurpose object, or, as Rodríguez Chávez notes, “It lets readers hold the work in their hands as it appeared almost 100 years ago.”
This facsimile edition of Fabla salvaje includes an oval-shaped photo of Vallejo; he is 31 years old, at most, and may well have his bags packed to set sail to France. This imaginary detail inspired by the photo is useful for highlighting three trajectories Ferreira presents in this edition. These trajectories explain how César Vallejo and his work became etched into the history of twentieth-century literature. I refer to these trajectories as pertaining to water, to Vallejo’s life, and to history.
The water trajectory corresponds to Vallejo’s ocean voyage, inspired by his desire to see Paris and to avoid a legal case against him that had been reopened in Peru, according to a June 15, 1923 letter he wrote to his brother Manuel. By then, he had already published Los heraldos negros (1919), Trilce (1922), Escalas (1923) and Fabla salvaje (1923). Vallejo had gained significant artistic freedom, having broken through the limits of language with Trilce. In 1923, however, he needed a waterway to other kinds of freedom. He crossed the Atlantic with his invaluable literary production in his back pocket. Ferreira notes that with his two 1923 publications, Vallejo’s prose “transitions from a realist and modernist narrative to an avant-garde narrative that is freer and more experimental” (x-xi).
The life trajectory covers much of what happens to Vallejo from 1923 to April 15, 1938, when he dies in Paris. His years in France are intense. They are full of economic hardship, but also of new writing projects, his love for Georgette, his voyages to Moscow, and his trips to Spain where the tensions that would turn into civil war were brewing. These were important formative years for the poet. The French capital, its streets, the world and people around him infused his prose-verse style with elements of journalism, narrative, dramatic text, and poetry.
The historical trajectory in the life and work of Vallejo comes fully to light on July 15, 1939. This is when Les Presses Modernes in Paris publishes Georgette de Vallejo and Raúl Porras Barrenchea’s edited and revised version of Poemas humanos. At that time, the smoke of the hammer’s strike still lingered in the air after the fall of the Second Spanish Republic on April 1, 1939. Next would be the invasion of Poland, also in 1939, and a while later, years of French Resistance in Paris, with Georgette moving around the occupied city with Vallejo’s manuscripts in tow.
Fabla salvaje was printed in the La Novela Peruana collection, a bi-monthly publication edited by Pedro Barrantes Castro. It is a nouvelle, or short novel—a literary genre that had undergone important innovations during the first quarter of the twentieth century in Hispanic literature on both sides of the Atlantic. In Fabla salvaje, the Peruvian Andean campesino, Balta Espinar, is haunted by a kind of ghost after his mirror falls to the ground and shatters. Balta explains what has happened to his pregnant wife, Adelaida, who turns pale from surprise and fear. Balta is filled with premonitions, as a hen cackles ominously as if in mourning. Balta descends into such a dark mental state that he ends up striking Adelaida, after which he leaves home and eventually throws himself off a cliff.
In addition to its length, Fabla salvaje is considered a nouvelle for its internal features: a condensed narrative, a turning point in the story, and like in the many great nouvelles dating back to Boccaccio in the fourteenth century, we find within it a symbol relating the text’s significance. In Vallejo’s narrative, this symbol is the hen announcing impending death with its cackling.
Another important characteristic of the nouvelle in Fabla salvaje is the presence of the fantastic. Ever since German Romanticism’s overhaul of the nouvelle, this genre has been fertile ground for expressing the fantastic. In Fabla salvaje, the fantastic emerges through an exploration of the theme or motif of the double. After the mirror breaks, Balta “thinks he sees the ghosts of a ‘double,’ or the figure of a subject who harasses and follows him” in the broken fragments of the mirror (Ferreira xi). From that moment and throughout the remainder of the story, the protagonist feels the constant presence of the double.
Ferreira suggests another time trajectory in this facsimile edition, one directed toward the readers. He brings us the joy of reading a text we can doubly appreciate: first, we have the pleasure of reading the text itself, and second, we get to experience the work as it was initially published in volume 9 of La Novela Peruana. The back side of the publication’s cover is a full-page advertisement for El tesoro de la juventud. Reacquainting ourselves with this bibliographic treasure is a true delight, as it is no doubt a formative and essential text for young Latin American students.
The edition closes with an advertisement of the Historia de la Guerra del Mundo, published by The University Society, Inc. This was a five-volume collection with maps and illustrations documenting World War I up to the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Meanwhile, the causes of another world war were becoming increasingly evident, at least from 1935 on. Eventually, 1939 would arrive, the critical year after César Vallejo’s death, but one in which the Peruvian poet would reaffirm his prominence in Latin American literature with the first edition of Poemas humanos.
Texas A&M International University
Translated by Amy Olen
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee