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Carmen Naranjo
Born: 1930
Nationality: Costa Rican
Occupation: Writer
Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers: Second Series. Ed. William Luis and Ann Gonzalez. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 145. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1994. From Literature Resource Center.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1994 Gale Research, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning



  • Canción de la ternura (San José: Elite, 1964).
  • Hacia tu isla (San José: Artes Gráficas, 1966).
  • Los perros no ladraron (San José: Costa Rica, 1966).
  • Misa a oscuras (San José: Costa Rica, 1967).
  • Memorias de un hombre palabra (San José: Costa Rica, 1968).
  • Camino al mediodía (San José: Lehmann, 1968).
  • Responso por el niño Juan Manuel (San José: Conciencia Nueva, 1971).
  • Idioma del invierno (San José: Conciencia Nueva, 1971).
  • Hoy es un largo día (San José: Costa Rica, 1972).
  • Diario de una multitud (San José: Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana, 1974).
  • Por Israel y por las páginas de la Biblia (San José: Fotorama de Centro América, 1976).
  • Cinco temas en busca de un pensador (San José: Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes, 1977).
  • Las relaciones públicas en las instituciones de seguridad social (San José: Instituto Centroamericano de Administración Pública, 1977).
  • Mi guerrilla (San José: Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana, 1977).
  • Cultura: 1. La acción cultural en Latinoamérica. 2. Estudio sobre la planificación cultural (San José: Instituto Centroamericano de Administración Pública, 1978).
  • Ejercicios y juegos para mi niño (de 0 a 3 años) (Guatemala City: UNICEF, 1981).
  • La mujer y el desarrollo (Mexico City: Sep Diana, 1981).
  • Homenaje a don Nadie (San José: Costa Rica, 1981).
  • Mi niño de 0 a 6 años (Guatemala City: UNICEF, 1982).
  • Ondina (San José: Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana, 1983).
  • Nunca hubo alguna vez (San José: Universidad Estatal a Distancia, 1984); translated by Linda Britt as There Never Was a Once Upon a Time (Pittsburgh: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1989).
  • Estancias y días, with Graciela Moreno (San José: Costa Rica, 1985).
  • Sobrepunto (San José: Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana, 1985).
  • El caso 117.720 (San José: Costa Rica, 1987).
  • Otro rumbo para la rumba (San José: Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana, 1989).
  • Mujer y cultura (San José: Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana, 1989).
  • Ventanas y asombros (San José: Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana, 1990).
  • ¡Y así empezó!, Panama City, Teatro Nacional de Panamá, 24 February 1969.
  • Adivíneme usted, San José, Teatro Nacional, September 1980.


  • La voz, in Obras breves del teatro costarricense, volume 2, edited by Carlos Franck (San José: Costa Rica, 1971), pp. 85-121.
  • "El truco florido," translated by Corina Mathieu as "The Flowery Trick" in Five Women Writers of Costa Rica, edited by Victoria Urbano (Beaumont, Tex.: Lamar University, 1978), pp. 3-5.
  • "Inventario de un recluso," translated by Mary Sue Listerman as "Inventory of a Recluse" in Five Women Writers of Costa Rica, pp. 13-16.
  • "El viaje y los viajes," translated by Marie J. Panico as "The Journey and the Journeys" in Five Women Writers of Costa Rica, pp. 6-12.
  • "Y vendimos la lluvia," translated by Jo Anne Engelbert as "And We Sold the Rain" in And We Sold the Rain: Contemporary Fiction from Central America, edited by Rosario Santos (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1988), pp. 149-156.
  • "Los dos santos medievales de mi abuela bizantina" and "Cuando floreció lo marchito," translated by Linda Britt as "My Byzantine Grandmother's Two Medieval Saints" and "When New Flowers Bloomed," in When New Flowers Bloomed: Short Stories by Women Writers from Costa Rica and Panama, edited by Enrique Jaramillo Levi (Pittsburgh: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1991), pp. 59-67.
  • "Ondina," in Latinos: Narrativa contemporánea desde catorce países, edited by Poli Delano (Buenos Aires: Instituto Movilizador de Fondos Cooperativos C.L., 1992), pp. 47-54.
  • "Dulce violencia" and "Infinitas partes de un temperamento," in Relatos de mujeres: Antología de narradoras de Costa Rica, edited by Linda Berrón (San José: Mujeres, 1993), pp. 41-48.
  • "¿A qué no me van a creer?," translated by Barbara Paschke as "Believe It or Not" in Costa Rica: A Traveler's Literary Companion, edited by Barbara Ras (San Francisco: Whereabouts Press, 1994), pp. 1-9.


  • "Manuela siempre," Escena, 5, no. 12 (1984): 23-31.
  • "Los Quijotes modernos: Ensayo de incorporación a la Academia Costarricense de la Lengua," Alba de América, 8 (July 1990): 289-304.


Carmen Naranjo is one of the most important literary figures in Costa Rica today. She has published seven volumes of poetry, seven novels, four books of short stories, and four books of essays. A creative and visionary writer, Naranjo incorporates a variety of innovative techniques in her works of fiction, several of which have won literary awards throughout Central America. She is read widely in Latin America but has become known only recently in the United States, mostly through translations of her short stories.

Carmen Naranjo Coto was born on 30 January 1930 in Cartago, the original capital of Costa Rica, some twenty kilometers from San José. Her father, Sebastián Naranjo Prida, was from Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Her mother, Caridad Coto Troyo, was from a family of Sephardic origin who immigrated to Costa Rica in the sixteenth century. Her father had a fabric store in Cartago for a while but was not much of a businessman. When Carmen was three years old the business failed and the family moved to San José, where Sebastián joined a family business. Carmen was the third of four children and the only daughter. Since the family's economic situation was somewhat precarious, they lived an austere life in the outskirts of San José. Carmen and her brothers Manuel, Mario, and Alfonso learned how to work at an early age to help the family.

At age seven Carmen suffered a severe case of polio, resulting in an atrophied arm. During her convalescence she did her first year of schooling with a tutor and read copiously from the large collection of books in the family library. Her favorite books were Plato and Aristotle and other Greek works such as Daphnis and Chloë , a reading level well beyond her years. Between eight and twelve she read Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy. At fifteen her father gave her the Royal Spanish Academy edition of El siglo de oro español (The Golden Age of Spanish Literature), which had a marked influence on her career as a writer.

Naranjo went to primary school at the Escuela República del Perú (Republic of Peru School), and she graduated from the Escuela Superior de Señoritas (High School for Young Women) in San José. In her late teens she read William Faulkner , Walt Whitman , Emily Dickinson , Jules Verne , and Carson McCullers . It was not until the mid 1960s, after publishing her first novel, that Naranjo began reading Latin-American authors such as Juan Rulfo , Carlos Fuentes , Octavio Paz, Julio Cortázar , and Jorge Luis Borges .

Having grown up with three brothers, Carmen was rebellious and aspired to be a doctor. Medical school was out of the question financially since it meant study abroad, so she resigned herself to studying liberal arts at the University of Costa Rica. By this time Naranjo already knew she had a vocation for writing. She read voluminously, kept a diary, and wrote speeches on themes of solidarity and charity for her father to present at the Spanish Society, of which he was a member.

Upon her graduation from the university with a licentiate degree in 1953 Naranjo worked as a clerk in the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social (Bureau of Social Security), beginning what was to become a full and illustrious career in the public sector. Shortly thereafter she took a job with the United Nations in Venezuela, where she wrote her first book of poetry, Canción de la ternura (A Tender Song, 1964), inspired by the nostalgia she felt for her family and by her first encounter with the magic and art of the written word. Due to an elevated sense of discretion and loyalty to her family, however, she did not seek to publish the book at that time. Although she got along well with her father, who admired her capacity for writing, Naranjo's modesty did not allow her to show him her poetry.

Her mother still does not understand or appreciate Naranjo's preference for writing and a public life over having a husband and children. Naranjo was married briefly in her twenties, but her sense of cultural responsibility and her obsession for writing left no room for the constraints of a conventional marriage, and her critical view of reality left her with no desire to bring children into a troubled world.

Returning to Costa Rica in 1964, Naranjo resumed work in the public sector, first as an assistant manager of the Costa Rican Electric Company, then as an assistant manager of La Caja, where she eventually became secretary general. By 1964 Naranjo's literary career began to take off. In a literary workshop led by Costa Rican essayist Lilia Ramos, Naranjo received the recognition and encouragement she needed to publish her first work. Naranjo published two more books of poetry, one dedicated to her father, who died in 1962--Hacia tu isla (Toward Your Island, 1966)--and another dedicated to uncovering religious hypocrisy, Misa a oscuras (Mass in the Darkness, 1967). The latter represents the culmination of a long-term crisis in her religious beliefs, which had been dealt a serious blow as early as her first communion. It was not until her research into Judaism while serving as Costa Rican ambassador to Israel (1972-1974) that she rediscovered her Catholicism.

An overview of Naranjo's novels and short stories reveals that one of her major themes is the portrayal of the contemporary Costa Rican on all levels of urban life. In effect, her fictional works provide an intuitive documentation, analysis, and critique of the situations in which a myriad of people find themselves and the attitudes, experiences, and actions or lack thereof that are the responses to those situations. As with most new Latin-American fiction writers, Naranjo integrates narrative technique with thematic concerns in her prose. One of the most important characteristics of the new Latin-American narrative as exemplified in Naranjo's prose is a search for authenticity in language and national identity, resulting in a high priority given to the representation of the spoken word in the literary work. In general there is also a rupture with the main features of the traditional novel, such as plot line, chronological sequence, and character development, all of which are minimized if not absent in Naranjo's fiction. In their place is a fragmented, more true-to-life representation of lived experience, which requires the active participation of the reader in order to complete the meaning of the text.

Naranjo's first three novels make up what might be considered a trilogy dedicated to the don Nadies (Mr. Nobodies) of this world, the anonymous men of the middle class, a relatively recent phenomenon in Costa Rica. Massive social reform instigated during the epoch of social democracy beginning in 1948 and solidified under the aegis of the National Liberation party, founded in 1952, led to the creation of numerous state agencies and many jobs for white-collar workers. Naranjo belonged to this generation and was an activist for social change and a leader in the cultural development of the country. Idealism slowly changed to disillusionment when plans were distorted more often than fulfilled as newly formed agencies became bureaucratic monsters, dehumanizing and alienating the common man rather than uplifting him, as was the initial goal.

Naranjo's narratives break with the rural costumbrista (novel of manners) tradition of the Costa Rican novel. Her works focus, rather, on urban life, especially that of the middle-class bureaucrat, depicted in an environment dominated by men and inspired by her firsthand experience at La Caja. Her fiction is unique in her avant-garde writing techniques, her comprehensive and profound vision of Costa Rican social reality, and her intimate understanding of the world of men from a thinking woman's perspective. Reflecting on her early works and her discovery of the art of writing, Naranjo said in a 1993 interview with Ardis L. Nelson, "Como con un lápiz podés encontrar la sangre. Como con un afán de buscarte a ti mismo podés encontrar a toda la humanidad" (It is as if with a pencil you can draw blood. As if in your desire to find yourself you find all humanity).

Her first novel, Los perros no ladraron (The Dogs Did Not Bark, 1966), recounts twenty-four hours in the life of a petty bourgeois who works in a state agency, ever at the mercy of an egocentric, manipulative boss. The protagonist, his colleagues, his wife, and his lover are all anonymous characters in a narrative made up completely of dialogue that chronicles the drab existence of the worker as he goes from home to the bus, to the café, to work, to the hospital, to his lover's apartment, to the bars, and back home again in thirty-two brief chapters. The theme revolves around the effects of the office hierarchy on the worker, who is just a cog in the wheel of the state bureaucracy and whose very existence hinges on the whims of his superiors. He leads an unfulfilling life, frustrated at every turn by a lack of appreciation for what he does and with no hope for any improvement of his lot. The dialogical structure of the work allows for multiple perspectives on the subject and requires active participation on the part of the reader, who must complete the mosaic of the mostly unnamed characters' interactions. Death is seen as the only escape from a futile and miserable life. The book was awarded the 1966 Aquileo Echeverría Prize for the Novel in Costa Rica and launched Naranjo's career as a fiction writer. It represents the successful use of language to express authenticity, an investigation into a national concern, and the involvement of the reader to create the meaning of the work, all characteristics of the new Latin-American narrative.

Memorias de un hombre palabra (Memories of a Word Man, 1968) charts the life of a lower-middle-class male from his early years to middle age. Once again the protagonist is anonymous, but the reader gets to know him intimately as he suffers rejection after rejection, beginning with his parents. His father left his mother before he was born, and his mother never shows any affection for the child. Indeed, she warns him that once she has fulfilled her obligations to him he would be on his own. She literally kicks him out of the house when he lands his first job, sending the disoriented, miserable boy into the world to make it as best he can. He manages to keep his job as a clerk in a store for many years, although he leads a drab, lonely existence marked by extreme introspection and anguish. The only highlights in his life are the occasional times he reaches out to another, only to be misunderstood and rejected, or when another, such as Elisa, reaches out to him. But his lack of trust spells doom for the relationship, and his honesty lands him in the hospital. He turns to thievery to maintain a newfound thrill in the possession of material goods. When he is discovered, he loses his job and becomes a philosophizing vagrant who finally finds happiness in the arms of a childhood friend, Adelilla, who gives him a child.

Memorias de un hombre palabra is about the desperation of a child who is neither wanted nor loved and who grows up to become a social misfit with no sense of self-worth. As a work in Naranjo's trilogy it represents the frustrations of the anonymous near-poverty-level individual who has no hopes for the future and is driven to dangerous pastimes for a thrill. The book is written in an innovative style in which the protagonist's thoughts and words are presented in a narrated interior monologue in which his exact spoken words are not indicated while the words of others are presented clearly as dialogue lines. The work is an intense examination of the innate creativity and optimism that persists even within the most unfortunate of society's children.

Camino al mediodía (The Road at Midday, 1968) completes the trilogy with the first-person account of a man who reads about his best friend's death in the newspaper at 7:30 A.M. and proceeds to the funeral home, eventually joining the cortege to the cemetery. During the five hours in which the action of the novel takes place, the protagonist suffers a severe headache and becomes aware that his friend, an upper-middle-class bureaucrat named Eduardo Campos Argüello, committed suicide. In his search for the funeral parlor he realizes that he seems to be invisible to others, and he has the uncanny experience of coming upon phantoms from the past of his deceased friend and revisiting scenes of funerals involving close family and friends. On the way to the cemetery the protagonist overhears all the gossip about the deceased's private and public life, with which he seems to be intimately acquainted. When Eduardo's colleagues give eulogies at the gravesite, the protagonist directs his commentary to the deceased, contradicting the flowery speeches with the truth about his life. The deceased was an ambitious man from an upper-middle-class family who sacrificed his true self for the pursuit of wealth and status. Driven by self-interest and greed, he became the president of a bank and achieved the high profile he sought. The lies, deceit, and hypocrisy that maintained the precarious balance of his folly led to his financial demise. The novel exposes the vacuousness of a life based on false materialistic values.

Naranjo's style in Camino al mediodía is unique, with ninety pages of uninterrupted text presented variously by an omniscient third-person narrator, an unnamed first-person protagonist whose interior monologue is set off in quotation marks, and numerous other characters whose dialogue lines are also set off in quotations. For the first time in Naranjo's fiction the fantastic element predominates. The invisible protagonist realizes that he is the deceased Eduardo Campos Argüello, or at least an integral part of him. Perhaps he is Eduardo's soul or conscience, which had separated from him long ago, when his ambition overcame his youthful goodness. Even this character, who may be seen as despicable, is treated with compassion by Naranjo as she shows the way out through truth and sincerity as personified in the conscience. The book won second prize for the novel in Los Juegos Florales Centroamericanos y de Panamá (The Central American and Panamanian Floral Games) celebrated in Quezaltenango, Guatemala, in 1967.

In 1970 Naranjo began teaching writers' workshops, the perfect environment for sharing her gift of self-expression and for mentoring aspiring writers. Her next novel, Responso por el niño Juan Manuel (Funeral for the Child Juan Manuel, 1971), is a direct result of those workshops. The story takes place the night of the wake being held for the fifteen-year-old Juan Manuel, a friend who at the same time is the invention of Luis, Oquendo, Ernesto, and Jorge, youths seeking a common goal to solidify their friendship and create meaning in their lives. Luis is the most sensitive and creative, Oquendo is the artist who draws the physical portrait of Juan Manuel, Ernesto is the cynic, and Jorge is skeptical but has the best understanding of the others. The friends tell stories about Juan Manuel, an orphan who in turn invented a friend named Carlitos to keep him company. The unsatisfied curiosity of two strangers invited to the wake heightens the enigma of Juan Manuel and the cause of his death.

There are multiple themes and levels of fiction in Responso, which includes "passages ... where as many as six metafictional levels operate simultaneously," according to Raymond D. Souza. While the search for authenticity and its resultant existential anguish are important themes, literary creativity is by far the predominant concern. "De la misma experiencia de los talleres, come se reúne un grupo de gente y van creando personajes, esos personajes a su vez creando otros personajes. Y como los primeros se van dando cuenta de que para que tengan validez, los personajes creados hay que matarlos" (Just as in a writers' workshop where people meet and create characters for their stories, Luis, Oquendo, Ernesto, those characters in turn create other characters. Then the first ones come to realize that the characters they have created must die in order to be real), Naranjo says in the 1993 interview. Responso is narrated first by an omniscient third person, but then each of the characters narrates different sections as each delves into his inner dilemma and his relationship to Juan Manuel. The book received the Aquileo Echeverría Prize for the Novel in Costa Rica in 1971 and second prize for the novel in Los Juegos Florales de Guatemala in 1968.

In 1971 Naranjo was named as one of the top administrators of La Caja, a position never before held by a woman in Costa Rica; she held it for six years. During these years she also held other political posts and traveled widely in various capacities. From 1972 to 1974 she was the Costa Rican ambassador to Israel, where she wrote the essays later published as Por Israel y por las páginas de la Biblia (Passing through Israel and the Pages of the Bible, 1976), the short stories Hoy es un largo día (Today Is a Very Long Day, 1972), and the book-length poem Mi guerrilla (My Own War, 1977).

Hoy es un largo día provides vignettes of the lives of ordinary people in a variety of situations, tinged now and again with irony and sarcasm, mystery and mysticism, fantasy and the fantastic. Each story provides an insight into Naranjo's philosophical outlook. The title story sketches a few disparate characters in a provincial town whose lives are more intertwined than they would like the neighbors to know. An omniscient narrator alternates between a meeting in the town hall and the intimacy of a private home, offering just enough information to allow the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps of the love triangles. The interplay of passions and appearances leads to all the characters getting what they want in the end.

The stories in this collection represent the recognition that everyone's attitudes and actions, whether political or personal, are but repetitions of what has gone before in the comedy of errors that humanity encompasses. For Naranjo, this book is "una conversación mía con el público" (a conversation I am having with the public), in which she integrates technical skill with profound insights and observations on the human condition. The book was well received critically and awarded the Editorial Costa Rica Prize for the Short Story in 1973.

During 1969-1970 Naranjo was invited to participate in a writers' workshop at the University of Iowa, where she taught a course on Latin-American literature and wrote her next novel, Diario de una multitud (Diary of a Multitude, 1974), based on her remembrances of San José. The first title that came to her when she began to write was San José el insoportable (Unbearable San José), for she would be writing from a critical perspective. Although Naranjo has lived almost her whole life in the city, she finds that the Costa Rican countryside is the truly lovely part of the country while the capital is ugly.

Due to the experimental nature of this novel it is impossible to discuss the characters and describe the story separately from the style and narrative techniques of the work. Instead of character and plot development, the novel consists of innumerable anonymous voices in fragments of dialogue and interior monologue that take place in San José. The book is divided into three chapters: "Hilos" (Threads), "Claves" (Clues), and "Tejidos" (Knitting). "Hilos" is a collage of voices that speak simultaneously one morning. It consists of more than twenty dialogues, several brief descriptive fragments of trivialities and one-sided conversations such as telephone calls, and segments that may be letters or postcards. Frequently there are paragraphs with several voices, each presenting his or her viewpoint in a run-on style, without dialogue indicators. Except for three fragments in which two women discuss a department-store sale, none of the segments seems to be directly interrelated. The socio-economic level of the speakers runs the gamut from the homeless to the well-to-do, and every possible everyday topic seems to be on the agenda of this collective personality, from a street vendor's activities to old family vengeances, from greetings and gossip to a critique of the country, a letter to the president, and a veterinarian's advice.

"Claves" contains meditations by an omniscient narrator who philosophizes and offers contradictory possibilities that may be keys to understanding the novel. It also includes sparse dialogue lines between two lovers as they go through different stages of their relationship. The emphasis on orality that so dominates the first and largest section of the book is here replaced by metaphoric language in the form of a monologue by the principal narrator. "Tejidos" brings together the loose threads of "Hilos," and a basic story line can be found here as a group of rebellious youths confront and threaten an old man and later become confused and excited by a shotlike sound. There is a blending of anonymous voices: the young radicals, who express their desire for freedom by throwing stones through windows; the poor, who spontaneously join in the looting and burning of stores; the store owners as they desperately try to save their merchandise; and the upper-middle-class folks who take refuge in their homes. The lovers from "Claves" return to find the city in ruins and the politicians thinking that tomorrow will be another day.

Diario de una multitud is Naranjo's most critically acclaimed novel. For Raymond D. Souza it is "a portrait of the frustrations, mediocrity, and sheer boredom of urban life ... an ironical and satirical apprehension of reality." He sees Naranjo's ideology as "decidedly liberal and her epistemological stance contextualistic." Alicia Miranda Hevia discusses the affinity of the novel with other Latin-American novels of the Boom. Luz Ivette Martínez analyzes Diario de una multitud as an antinovel and compares it with Julio Cortázar 's Rayuela (1963; translated as Hopscotch, 1967) in its rupture with traditional structure, lack of conventional characters, use of language to demonstrate the lack of communication, freedom of narrative techniques, lack of an external narrator, and active participation of the reader. Diario de una multitud was awarded the Prize for the Novel by the Superior Council of Central American Universities.

Naranjo's experience as ambassador to Israel was a turning point in her multifaceted career. The recognition she received from serving in this prestigious post, as well as from the weekly essays she published in Costa Rican newspapers during her time in Israel, made her a popular figure. She was asked by the administration of Daniel Oduber Quirós to serve as minister of culture, youth, and sports in 1974. This was a time of great enthusiasm for the recently formed Ministry of Culture, which sought to unite the educated and illiterate in a process of cultural training. Naranjo was directly responsible for initiating many institutions established for the dissemination of culture: the Department of Cinema, the National Theater Company, the National Symphonic Orchestra, the publishing house of Costa Rica, and the College of Costa Rica. She organized many events that encouraged the active participation of the citizens. Her book-length essay Cultura (1978) is dedicated to clarifying the concept of culture and how it manifests itself in everyday life. Concurrent with this assignment, Naranjo was the administrative coordinator of the Central American Institute of Public Administration. After two years as minister of culture, Naranjo resigned due to a lack of support for some of her projects. She had been called subversive for exposing Costa Rican society to the ills of their country through filmed programs about issues such as deforestation, malnutrition, poverty, and alcoholism.

Even after her resignation, she continued to serve in various cultural and political capacities. From 1976 to 1978 she was vice-president of the Association of Caribbean and Central American Writers and vice-president of the Worldwide Association of Writers and Journalists. She served as advisor for the Organization of American States (OAS), directing the installation of social security systems in El Salvador and the Dominican Republic; and she coordinated the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Early Childhood Education Program for Central America and Panama, working in Guatemala (1976-1978) and Mexico (1978-1980). In 1977 the Spanish government awarded Naranjo membership in the Order of Alfonso X El Sabio. Returning to Costa Rica in 1980, Naranjo became director of the Costa Rica Museum of Art (1980-82), then Director of EDUCA (Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana [Central America Universities Publishing House], 1982-1992).

Experiences she had during the times spent working with the OAS and with UNICEF in the Caribbean and in Guatemala led to the themes of the stories published in Ondina (1983). Two representative stories of Ondina are "Simbiosis del encuentro" (Symbiosis of a Couple) and "Los señores matosos de la casa alta" (The Maniacal Señores at the Top of the Hill). In "Simbiosis del encuentro" Ana and Manuel are told by friends they would be perfect for each other, and they meet at a party arranged partly for this purpose. They fall madly in love and are inseparable for a time, but during a cooling-off period arguments begin. After a week-long separation Manuel returns feeling sick and needy, so he stays on with Ana. They finally go to a doctor and, to their consternation, discover that Manuel is pregnant. This unheard-of situation leads them to do research, to no avail, and to travel to a neighboring country to have their child. Ana's disgust with Manuel's condition prompts her to drop him off alone at the hospital door. When she returns the following day he is nowhere to be found. During her desperate search for Manuel and her child, Ana gradually turns into a man. The story presents that aspect of relationships whereby people lose their individuality and become increasingly like the significant other. It is also a feminist statement on male lack of compassion for the suffering of childbearing.

"Los señores matosos de la casa alta" is also about a couple, but in this case they marry, have a child, and remain together for many years, not so much for love but due to the fact that the husband is an absolute tyrant and the wife is submissive and servile. When the couple first met, he laid down the conditions of the marriage, making it clear that it is a serious matter to marry when a man has ambition and seeks power. She vowed to please him in all respects and never to complain. Although it was rumored they were happy, the wife had no will or voice of her own. She helped her husband run the businesses, which he did in a heartless and dictatorial manner.

The story is told by a third-person omniscient narrator about the rise to power of an egocentric man whose every act is openly dictatorial. The story may be a metaphor for Central American politics, but it is certainly a variation on the French proverb plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (the more things change, the more they remain the same). Ondina won the EDUCA prize for Latin-American narrative in 1982 and is one of Naranjo's most provocative works.

Nunca hubo alguna vez (1984; translated as There Never Was a Once Upon a Time , 1989) is a book of short stories based on Naranjo's experiences with young people. It is written particularly for children from twelve to nineteen. The title story is a sensitive first-person account of the hurt and disillusionment of ending a friendship. Written in the form of a letter, it reviews the events leading up to the estrangement and includes the narrator's own feelings and observations. Her friend had insisted that she ride her new bicycle one day. Unfortunately she had an accident and ran into a truck, ruining the bike and the friendship.

"Dieciocho formas de hacer un cuadrado" (Eighteen Ways to Make a Square), also narrated in the first-person, describes the contest invented by the narrator's friend Pepe to entertain his friends when they are all home in bed with the flu. He responds first by drawing a square in twenty-three different ways, graphically represented in the text, but later decides it is a question of mental squares and comes up with nineteen examples, such as "Cuando elogiás algo que no te gusta y te lo regalan" (When you fawn over something you do not like and then they give it to you) and "Cuando te creés alguien por querer parecerte a otro" (When you believe you are somebody for wanting to be like someone else). This book is popular with young people, who find it easy to identify with the characters.

Estancias y días (Places and Days, 1985) is a book of story-essays written with Graciela Moreno in which the chapters alternate between those written by Moreno--"Estancias"--and those written by Naranjo--"Días." Both write in the first-person singular voice, thus creating an interior monologue, but one in which each author attempts to speak with her representative demons. For Moreno it is death, for Naranjo existential anguish. "Estancias" is a coming to terms with death in a strictly poetic way, where death is a constant companion and even a lover. Naranjo's "Días" have a chronology, dating from 1963 to 1981, a trajectory of searching for self-understanding, acceptance, and authenticity with others. The whole book is pessimistic in tone and suggests a time of physical and emotional crisis.

Sobrepunto (Point Over Point, 1985) is the story of Olga, an intimate study of a confused and rebellious young woman as told by her friend, admirer, and confidant, the solitary hijo del pulpero (son of the grocer) through his diary and memories. This male narrator is the only person in Olga's life who accepts her as she is. Her own mother, a prostitute, sold her to her grandparents, who brought her up in physical comfort but without love. Olga's search for her own identity leads her on a tortuous path that always ends in frustration. She is thrown out of school for improper conduct. Her boyfriend's family rejects her because of her lineage. She is always considered an outsider, in part because her parents were not born in Costa Rica and in part due to her mother's disgraceful lifestyle. Olga marries Miguel and has children, but there is no love in the relationship. By mutual accord they divorce and celebrate with a large party to announce their change in status. Miguel marries his lover, but Olga's relationship with Juan falls apart when he decides to stay with his wife.

After her well-intentioned efforts at marriage and motherhood Olga succumbs to a degenerate existence following a self-styled philosophy of liberation she calls sport. She has a series of lovers and becomes a drug addict, losing her children to Miguel as a result. El hijo del pulpero, a friend of Olga's since childhood, provides the only point of view available to the reader. He is obsessed with Olga, is a good listener, is at her bid and call, never judges or criticizes her, and supports her emotionally to the very end. Although he makes numerous attempts to intercede on Olga's behalf with her family and friends, el hijo del pulpero is also frustrated in his efforts since he too is an outsider--his family is of German descent. While it seems that he loves her, the narrator's platonic relationship with Olga is essentially passive, his perspective that of a sympathetic observer as he befriends this capricious, self-indulgent creature who is at the same time a victim of social stigmas.

This novel, actually written in the 1960s, was kept in a drawer for twenty years and published subsequently without any changes to the manuscript. It is impressive that such a timely novel for the 1980s was written twenty years earlier. The narrative style is experimental, an attempt to write according to the French style of painting called pointillism (puntillismo), thus the title Sobrepunto. Translated from the realm of the pictoral to that of the verbal, puntillismo can be seen to express an eternal present, that of Olga entering the room where el hijo del pulpero writes and meets with her. Although he has not seen her in a long time, there is no chronology in the telling. Her presence is eternal in his memory and his diary, which make up the bulk of the story. As is typical in Naranjo's works, Sobrepunto makes a sociopolitical statement, in this case expressing disillusionment with the revolution of 1948 and the counterrevolution of 1955 as well as a critique of a closed and hypocritical society. This important work awaits serious critical attention.

El caso 117.720 (Case Number 117. 720, 1987) is the story of Antonio, a man from a good upper-middle-class family who has had a respectable career in the public sector but who seemingly has become schizophrenic in midlife and is kept in a room in his mother's house. The personal side of the story is framed by a scientific discourse at the beginning and end of the novel. As the medical specialist delineates the particulars of case 117. 720, he also waxes philosophical, discussing the illness in metaphorical terms. The scientific exams have yielded no answers, and the teacher admits that it is a mystery that may be solved only in the future. Antonio is the narrator of most of the book, his interior monologue interspersed with dialogue from the people who have been part of his life: his mother doña Amalia, his sisters Lucrecia and Margarita, his ex-wife Marta and her lover Juan, and two maids who take care of him in his isolated room.

In his demented state Antonio believes himself to be a pine tree that grows beets that he can pick from his body and throw at the spider that threatens him. He can no longer communicate verbally with others, a condition made evident in the text by the lack of dialogue lines preceding the words he wishes to express. Antonio's activities are severely restricted, for he finds it nearly impossible to move. His monologue describing the difficulty he has in retrieving a pencil from the floor suggests a catatonic state. Despite these limitations, his thoughts are lucid at times, such as his understanding that life is "un hueco en el vacío" (a hole in the void). He realizes that he can enter one hole and come out in another, an apt poetic depiction of a schizophrenic state. He also has vivid recollections of his past life, so vivid that they color his perception of people in the present. He cannot see the people who enter his room except as shadows, and he cannot believe that a shadow resembling his mother actually could be she because she never had time for him in the past. Antonio's reaction to his mother's presence in the room suggests that he grew up feeling unloved and distant from her, possibly providing an early source of distress that led to his illness.

The final discourse declares that case 117. 720 has been resolved. Antonio's illness is attributed to unstable blood pressure over the period of a lifetime, and a list of physical and psychological symptoms is provided. Stylistically, however, this final portion of the book becomes a pessimistic commentary on life, human relationships, and justice. Each and every phrase of the scientific speech is followed by a rebuttal, a question, or a contradictory remark in parentheses, indicating that the logic of the discourse is riddled with error. This is the story of a sensitive, introspective man who goes crazy because of the degeneration of social values. Antonio may also be seen as a metaphor for Costa Rica, a country that no longer exists, according to Naranjo in a 1993 interview with Nelson: "Es decir que Costa Rica ya no es nada. Nos manda el fondo económico mundial. Ya no existimos como un país, ya no tomamos decisiones" (Costa Rica no longer has an identity. The World Bank controls us. We no longer exist as a country, we no longer make decisions).

Otro rumbo para la rumba (Another Rhythm for the Rumba, 1989) includes a clever story called "En todas partes se puede" (Anywhere It Is Possible). A poor Latin-American woman saves up money for a passage to the United States by selling everything she owns and finds herself struggling for survival in New York. She resorts to selling her body, but it makes her nauseous, so she seeks refuge in Bloomingdale's, a store big enough to be a city unto itself. She sleeps in a display waterbed as a model and steals from the store to set up her own business. Her success story gets around and other Latin Americans take up residence in the store, driving the unnamed protagonist to head for Macy's. The story is a humorous tale of a silent invasion of the United States by Latin-American rogues.

"Y vendimos la lluvia" (translated as "And We Sold the Rain," 1988) is a masterful tale of how a small country, presumably Costa Rica, meets its economic crisis by selling its most abundant natural resource, the rain, to an Arab nation. Their recovery is short-lived, for the water that turns the desert into an oasis is now scarce in the homeland and life is no longer possible. The story is chillingly accurate in terms of what may happen when the rain forests have all been sold to pay the foreign debt. The story has received no critical attention, although it is the title story of a collection of Central American fiction translated into English. Otro rumbo para la rumba is a book of maturity in which a myriad of topics are handled with insight and irony. Along with most of her works, it has yet to receive serious critical attention.

Costa Rica has recognized Naranjo's contributions to its culture by giving her several prestigious awards. She received the Premio Magón de Cultura (Magón Prize for Culture) in 1986; in 1988 she became a member of the Academia Costarricense de la Lengua (Costa Rican Academy of Language), the acceptance speech for which was published as "Los Quijotes modernos" (1990); and a cultural week was held in her honor in 1989 at the Universidad de Costa Rica, IV Semana Cultural en Homenaje de Carmen Naranjo. In that same year she became a leader for women's rights in Costa Rica when she drafted and promoted the controversial "Ley de la Igualdad Real" (Law for Social Equality of Women). Naranjo has used every possible outlet at her disposal to educate the Costa Rican public and to work for change in laws, attitudes, and customs. Another example of this effort is her collection of forty brief essays addressed to the Costa Rican woman, Mujer y cultura (Woman and Culture, 1989).

Carmen Naranjo is an exceptional person in many ways. Despite the fact that her life has been more public than private, she has written and published extensively and is held in the highest esteem by all those who have known her: students, friends, politicians, academics, family members, and other writers. She conducts weekly talleres (workshops) for aspiring writers and occasional art workshops to teach drawing in her modest library on the patio of the family home on the congested Avenida Central. She has published one book of her art, Ventanas y asombros (Windows and Surprises, 1990), which are line drawings, and her work continues to incorporate more and more color. Since October 1993 she has been writing a daily column in El Día, one of the popular daily newspapers in San José, on topics ranging from indigenous groups in Panama to music, poetry, and popular expressions in Costa Rica.

At present she has seven works ready to be published and one major work in progress. The two volumes of poetry are En el círculo de los pronombres (In the Circle of Pronouns) and En esta tierra redonda y plana (On This Round and Flat Earth). The five volumes of short stories are Los girasoles perdidos (The Lost Sunflowers); Pasaporte de palabras (A Passport of Words); Fugaz y eterno (Fugacious and Eternal); Los poetas también se mueren (Poets Also Die); and En partes (In Parts). An ongoing autobiographical novel is entitled Insomnios de una adolescente que nació vieja (Sleepless Nights of an Adolescent Who Was Born Old).

Naranjo's only retreat from the hectic pace of San José is an occasional weekend trip to an austere cabin in the country near Alajuela on a small coffee farm she purchased after her trip to Israel. In the city she lives in a supportive environment of family members and spends most of her waking hours teaching and writing.



  • Evelyn Picón Garfield, Letras, 11-12 (January-December 1983): 215-226.
  • Rose S. Minc and Teresa Méndez-Faith, "Conversando con Carmen Naranjo," Revista Iberoamericana, 51, nos. 132-133 (July-December 1985): 507-510.
  • Juana A. Arancibia, "Entrevista con Carmen Naranjo," Alba de América: Revista Literaria, 9, nos. 16-17 (1991): 403-405.
  • Lourdes Arizpe, "An Interview with Carmen Naranjo: Women and Latin American Literature," in Revising the Word and the World: Essays in Feminist Literary Criticism, edited by Veve A. Clark, Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres, and Madelon Sprengnether (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 51-63.
  • María Eugenia Acuña, Bibliografía comentada de Carmen Naranjo, special issue of Letras, 22 (January-June 1990): 1-193.
  • Linda Britt, "A Transparent Lens? Narrative Technique in Carmen Naranjo's Nunca hubo alguna vez," Monographic Review/Revista Monográfica, 4 (1988): 127-135.
  • Richard J. Callan, "Archetypal Symbolism in Two Novels of the Costa Rican, Carmen Naranjo," in Ensayos de literatura europea e hispanoamericana, edited by Felix Menchacatorre (San Sebastián, Spain: Universidad del País Vasco, 1990), pp. 61-65.
  • Alicia Miranda Hevia, "Introducción a la obra novelesca de Carmen Naranjo," Cahiers du monde hispanique et luso-bresilien/Caravelle, 36 (1981): 121-129.
  • Hevia, Novela, discurso y sociedad: "Diario de una multitud" (Desamparados, Costa Rica: Mesén, 1985).
  • Hevia, "La prosodia de Diario de una multitud," Káñina: Revista de Artes y Letras de la Universidad de Costa Rica, 7, (January-July 1983): 9-12.
  • Luz Ivette Martínez Santiago, Carmen Naranjo y la narrativa femenina en Costa Rica (San José: Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana, 1987).
  • Martínez Santiago, "Trayectoria de la obra de Carmen Naranjo," Alba de América: Revista Literaria, 9, nos. 16-17 (1991): 153-162.
  • Sonia Marta Mora Escalante, "Diario de una multitud de la crítica al desengaño," in Evaluación de la literatura femenina de Latinoamérica, Siglo XX: II Simposio Internacional de Literatura: Tomo II, edited by Juana Alcira Arancibia (San José: Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana, 1986), pp. 51-65.
  • Ardis L. Nelson, "Carmen Naranjo and Costa Rican Culture," in Reinterpreting the Spanish American Essay: Studies of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Women's Essays, edited by Doris Meyer (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), pp. 289-306.
  • Evelyn Picón Garfield, "La luminosa ceguera de sus días: Los cuentos 'humanos' de Carmen Naranjo," Revista Iberoamericana, 53 (January-June 1987): 287-301.
  • Patricia Rubio, "Carmen Naranjo (Costa Rica)," in Spanish American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Source Book, edited by Diane E. Marting (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990), pp. 350-359.
  • Raymond D. Souza, "Novel and Context in Costa Rica and Nicaragua," Romance Quarterly, 33 (November 1986): 453-462.
  • Jorge Valdeperas, Para una nueva interpretación de la literatura costarricense (San José: Costa Rica, 1979), pp. 111-121.
  • Aura Rosa Vargas, "Los perros no ladraron: Una novedad técnica en la novelística costarricense," Káñina, 1 (July-December 1977): 33-36.

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
Nelson, Ardis L. "Carmen Naranjo." Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers: Second Series, edited by William Luis and Ann Gonzalez, Gale, 1994. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 145. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 22 Apr. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1200004152