Though the government, private donors, and the leading newspaper La Nacion sponsor literature through annual prizes, only a handful of writers make a living from writing, and Costa Rican literature is often belittled as the most prosaic and anemic in Latin America. Lacking great goals and struggles, Costa Rica was never a breeding ground for the passions and dialectics which spawned the literary geniuses of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile, whose works, full of satire and bawdy humor, are "clenched fists which cry out against social injustice."
Costa Rica's early literary figures were mostly essayists and poets (Roberto Brenes Mesen and Joaquin Garcia Monge are the most noteworthy). Even the writing of the 1930's and '40s, whose universal theme was a plea for social progress, lacked the pace and verisimilitude and rich literary delights of other Latin American authors. Carlos Luis Fallas's Mamita Yunai, which depicts the plight of banana workers, is the best and best-known example of this genre. Other examples include Fallas's Gentes y Gentecillas, JoaquÃn Gutierrez's Puerto Limon and Federica, and Carmen Lyra's Bananos y Hombres.
The literature of modern Costa Rica still draws largely from the local setting, and though the theme of class struggle has given way to a lighter, more novelistic approach, it still largely lacks the mystical, surrealistic, Rabelaisian excesses, the endless layers of experience and meaning, and the wisdom, subtlety, and Romanticism of the best of Brazilian, Argentinean, and Colombian literature. An outstanding exception is Julieta Pinto's El Eco de los Pasos, a striking novel about the 1948 civil war.