The description in Friday’s class of Cumandá as a canonical (and the first) novel in Ecuador that everyone in that country has read and studied in school, made me think. If Mera’s Cumandá is to Ecuadorian literature as Shakespeare and Dickens are to British literature, is there a Canadian equivalent? When that question was put before the class on Friday, no one had a real answer. Will there ever be a novel that we can point to as “the great Canadian novel?” Does that matter?
After Friday’s class, I finally started reading the book, and I got to thinking about what makes it such an important book to Ecuadorians, with, according to the book’s back cover, “Su importancia no soló radical en su character inaugural, sino sobre todo en haber sintetizado casi todos los temas que han tejido la historia idealólogica interna del romanticismo hispanoamericano.”
In the opening chapter of the book, Mera’s rich, evocative descriptions of the Ecuadorian jungles and volcanoes are captivating. I don’t often enjoy reading lengthy passages of description at the beginning of a novel, but I found myself immersed in the landscape of Mera’s Spanish prose. If this novel is to typify and represent Ecuador and Ecuadorian literature, then Mera seems intent on making the land of Ecuador itself an important part of the novel. If “the great Canadian novel” began with passages describing frozen lakes, snow-covered trees, huge snowbanks, and more snow, would many readers continue past the opening chapter? Not that those images can’t be beautiful, but I have a tough time imagining an author describing them as fascinatingly as Mera’s tropical landscape.