The Dictator Novel: Writers and Politics in the Global South

Northwestern University Press, July 2019

Where there are dictators, there are novels about dictators. But “dictator novels” do not simply respond to the reality of dictatorship. As this genre has developed and cohered, it has acquired a self-generating force distinct from its historical referents. The dictator novel has become a space in which writers consider the difficulties of national consolidation, explore the role of external and global forces in sustaining dictatorship, and even interrogate the political functions of writing itself. Literary representations of the dictator, therefore, provide ground for a self-conscious and self-critical theorization of the relationship between writing and politics.

The Dictator Novel: Writers and Politics in the Global South positions novels about dictators as a vital genre in the literatures of the Global South. Primarily identified with Latin America, the dictator novel also has underacknowledged importance in the postcolonial literatures of francophone and anglophone Africa. Although scholars have noted similarities, this book is the first extensive comparative analysis of these traditions; it includes discussions of works by such authors as Gabriel García Márquez, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Alejo Carpentier, Augusto Roa Bastos, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, José Mármol, Esteban Echeverría, Ousmane Sembène , Chinua Achebe, Aminata Sow Fall, Henri Lopès, Sony Labou Tansi, and Ahmadou Kourouma. This juxtaposition illuminates the internal dynamics of the dictator novel as a literary genre. In so doing, The Dictator Novel puts forward a comparative model relevant to scholars working across the Global South.

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“Genuinely illuminates both Latin American and African literature, as well as the field in which they are both located, the Global South. Students of literature will take this as a model of what comparative literature can teach.”

—Neil ten Kortenaar, author of Postcolonial Literature and the Impact of Literacy: Reading and Writing in African and Caribbean Fiction