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Alejo Carpentier y Valmont (December 26, 1904 – April 24, 1980) was a Cubanmarker novelist, essay writer, and musicologist who greatly influenced Latin American literature during its famous "boom" period. He was among the first practitioners of magical realism and exerted a decisive influence on the works of younger Latin American writers.


Early life and education

Carpentier was born in Lausannemarker, Switzerlandmarker. For a long time it was believed that he was born in Havanamarker, where his family moved immediately after his birth. Following Carpentier's death, his birth certificate was found in Switzerland. His mother was Russian and a professor of languages, and his father was a French architect.

When Alejo was 12, his family moved from Cuba to Paris. He began to study music theory at the Lycée Jeanson de Sailly. When the family returned to Cuba in the 1920s, Carpentier began courses in architecture, a degree which he never completed. He also studied music.

Cuba and exile in France

Carpentier became a cultural journalist, writing mostly about avant-garde developments in the arts, particularly music. His journalistic work was considered leftist and helped found the Cuban Communist Party. Together with the composer Amadeo Roldán, Carpentier helped organize the Cuban premieres of works by Stravinsky and Poulenc.

In 1927, Carpentier was arrested for opposing the Gerardo Machado y Morales dictatorship and spent forty days in jail. It was during this brief period in jail that he started working on his first novel, Ecué-Yamba-O (1933), an exploration of Afro-Cuban traditions among the poor of the island. He later criticized it for being superficial. Carpentier was released in early 1928. After his release, he escaped Cuba with the help of poet journalist Robert Desnos who had lent him his passport and papers.

While exiled in France, Carpentier was introduced to the surrealists by Desnos, including André Breton, Paul Éluard, Louis Aragon, Jacques Prévert, and Antonin Artaud. He also met Guatemalan author Miguel Ángel Asturias, whose work on pre-Columbian mythology influenced his writing. He continued to earn his living by writing on contemporary culture, both in French and Spanish, as well as contributing to the Communist Party journal. While in France, Carpentier made several visits to Spain, during which he developed a fascination for the Baroque. In 1937 (during the Spanish Civil War), he attended an international conference in Madrid of writers against fascism.

Return to Cuba and years in Venezuela

Carpentier returned to Cuba and continued to work as a journalist at the outbreak of World War II. He worked on an important history of Cuban music, eventually published in 1946 as La música en Cuba. It is now available in translation. He also wrote short stories which were later collected in The War of Time (1958). While in Cuba, Carpentier attended a santería ceremony that was to further deepen his interest in Afro-Cubanism.

In 1943, accompanied by French theatrical director Louis Jouvet, Carpentier made a crucial trip to Haitimarker, during which he visited the fortress of the Citadelle Laferrièremarker and the Palace of Sans-Souci, both built by the black king Henri Christophe. This trip, along with readings from Oswald Spengler's cyclical interpretation of history, provided the inspiration for his second novel, El Reino de Este Mundo (The Kingdom of this World) (1949).

In 1945, Carpentier moved to Caracas. From 1945 to 1959 he lived in Venezuelamarker, which is the obvious inspiration for the unnamed South American country in which much of The Lost Steps takes place. In 1949, he finished his novel The Kingdom of this World. This novel has a prologue that "outlines Carpentier's faith in the destiny of Latin America and the aesthetic implications of its peculiar cultural heritage."

Later life

He returned to Cuba after the Fidel Castro's Communist revolution in 1959. He worked for the State Publishing House while he completed the baroque-style book, El Siglo de las Luces (Explosion in a Cathedral) (1962)." This novel discusses the advent of the Enlightenment and the ideas of the French Revolution in the New World. It has twin leitmotifs of the printing press and the guillotine and can be read as a "meditation on the dangers inherent in all revolutions as they begin to confront the temptations of dictatorship.". After reading the book Gabriel García Márquez is said to have discarded the first draft of One Hundred Years of Solitude and begun again from scratch.

In 1966, he settled in Paris as he served as Cuban ambassador to France. In 1975 he was the recipient of the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca. He received the Cervantes Prize in 1977 and was recipient of the French Laureates Prix Médicis étranger in 1979 for La harpe et l'ombre.

Carpentier was struggling with cancer as he completed his final novel and he died in Paris on April 24, 1980. His remains were returned to Cuba for interment in the Colon Cemetery, Havanamarker.

Themes and famous works

Carpentier is widely known for his baroque style of writing and his theory of "lo real maravilloso,". This is the notion that the history and the geography of Latin America are both so extreme as to appear fictional, magical to outsiders. Thus, Latin America is a region where the line between magic and reality is blurred. It was in the prologue to The Kingdom of this World, a novel of the Haitian Revolution, that he described his vision of "lo real maravilloso" ("But what is the history of Latin America but a chronicle of magical realism?"). The novel itself develops the outlandish (but true) history of Henri Christophe, first king of Haiti, as an example of how the real history of Latin America is so strange as to appear fictional. Some critics interpret the "real maravilloso" as being synonymous with magical realism. However, Carpentier's theory and its development in his work are more limited in their scope than is the magical realism of, for example, Gabriel García Márquez. Whereas García Márquez's works include events that the reader never mistakes for reality (rainfall of flowers, old men with wings, etc.), Carpentier, for the most part, simply writes about extreme aspects of the history and geography of Latin America, aspects that are almost unbelievable, but that are in fact true. Carpentier's most famous works include:


  • "For what is the story of [Latin] America if not a chronicle of the marvealous in the real."
  • "[A] fuerza de querer suscitar lo maravilloso a todo trance, los taumaturgos se hacen burócratas." ([B]y creating the marvellous at all cost, the thaumaturgists become bureaucrats).


Further reading

  • The logic of fetishism : Alejo Carpentier and the Cuban tradition / James J Pancrazio., 2004
  • Carpentier's Baroque fiction : returning Medusa's gaze / Steve Wakefield., 2004
  • Postmodern tales of slavery in the Americas : from Alejo Carpentier to Charles Johnson / Timothy J Cox., 2001
  • Carpentier's Proustian fiction : the influence of Marcel Proust on Alejo Carpentier / Sally Harvey., 1994
  • Myth and history in Caribbean fiction : Alejo Carpentier, Wilson Harris, and Edouard Glissant / Barbara Webb., 1992
  • Alejo Carpentier, the pilgrim at home / Roberto González Echevarría, 1990
  • Alejo Carpentier (Twayne World Author's Series) / Donald Leslie Shaw., 1985
  • Alejo Carpentier : bibliographical guide / Roberto González Echevarría., 1983
  • Carpentier, El reino de este mundo / Richard A Young., 1983
  • Carpentier, Los pasos perdidos / Verity Smith., 1983
  • Alchemy of a hero : a comparative study of the works of Alejo Carpentier and Mario Vargas Llosa / Bobs Tusa., 1983
  • Alejo Carpentier, a comprehensive study / Bobs Tusa., 1982
  • Alejo Carpentier and his early works / Frank Janney., 1981
  • Three authors of alienation : Bombal, Onetti, Carpentier / Michael Ian Adams., 1975
  • Alejo Carpentier : his Euro-Caribbean vision / Lloyd King., 1972

  • Alejo Carpentier y la cultura del surrealismo en América Latina / Anke Birkenmaier., 2006
  • Alejo Carpentier y el mundo clasico / Inmaculada López Calahorro., 2006
  • Alejo Carpentier ante la crítica / Fernando Ainsa., 2005
  • Alejo Carpentier, el peregrino en su patria / Roberto González Echevarría., 2004
  • Nuevas lecturas de alejo Carpentier / Alexis Márquez Rodríguez., 2004
  • Diccionario de conceptos de Alejo Carpentier / Víctor Fowler., 2004
  • Estudios carpenterianos / Sergio Chaple., 2004
  • Un camino de medio siglo : Alejo Carpentier y la narrativa de lo real maravilloso / Leonardo Padura., 2002
  • Música y escritura en Alejo Carpentier / Gabriel María Rubio Navarro., 1999
  • Carpentier : una revisión lineal / Dinko Cvitanovic., 1997
  • Las últimas obras de Alejo Carpentier / Antonio Fama., 1995
  • Alejo Carpentier, el peregrino en su patria / Roberto González Echevarría., 1993
  • Cómo leer a Alejo Carpentier / Patrick Collard., 1991
  • El diálogo con la historia de Alejo Carpentier / Oscar Velayos Zurdo., 1985
  • El acá y el allá en la narrativa de Alejo Carpentier / Sixto Plaza., 1984
  • Lo barroco y lo real-maravilloso en la obra de Alejo Carpentier / Alexis Márquez Rodríguez., 1982
  • Música y épica en la novela de Alejo Carpentier / Leonardo Acosta., 1981
  • Alejo Carpentier : estudios sobre su narrativa / Esther P Mocega-González., 1980
  • Alejo Carpentier : el tiempo del hombre / Eduardo González., 1978
  • El "último" Carpentier / José Vila Selma., 1978
  • Para leer a Alejo Carpentier / Jorge Oscar Pickenhayn., 1978
  • Recopilación de textos sobre Alejo Carpentier / Salvador Arias., 1977
  • Realismo mágico y lo real maravilloso en El reino de este mundo y El siglo de las luces / Juan Barroso., 1977
  • La narrativa de Alejo Carpentier : el concepto del tiempo como tema fundamental / Esther P Mocega-González., 1975
  • Duno-Gottberg, Luis. 2003. "Solventando las diferencias: La ideología del mestizaje en Cuba", Iberoamericana – Frankfurt am Main, Vervuert, Madrid.

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