The Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti died in Montevideo on May 17. A novelist, essayist, short story writer, poet and apologist for tango, Benedetti wrote more than 60 books and has long been considered a major figure in Latin American writing of the last half-century. He was also a political figure, having been pursued by the Uruguayan military junta in the 1970s for his indiscreet writings from the perspective of The Left. He lived for a time in Buenos Aires, then had to move on to Spain. Although he was able to return to Uruguay after the restoration of democratically-elected governments in that country in the 1980s, he continued spending a good deal of his time in Madrid as well.
Benedetti has not been much translated into English, which is a shame, given his enormous output and his importance to the literary boom of South America that also produced such luminaries as Gabriel García Márquez, Eduardo Galeano, Isabel Allende, Mario Vargas Llosa and many others. Benedetti’s famous novel La tregua (The Truce) was published in an English edition in 1969, but the book is out of print and difficult to find. If you can find it, it’s well worth reading, a fine novel about middle-class urban angst in Montevideo in the middle of the 20th century. The film version of La tregua, which was made in Argentina, was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Film in 1975. I have long wished that someone would translate his book of stories Montevideanos, in all of which Montevideo serves as a kind of character in a way similar to how Dublin does in James Joyce’s work or London does in that of Charles Dickens. Currently you can read a collection of Benedetti’s short stories entitled Blood Pact and Other Stories as well as a selection of his poems entitled Little Stones At My Window.
In an article that appeared Sunday, May 18, in the Mexican daily La Jornada (my translation of which follows) the Portuguese novelist José Saramago expressed his sadness at the passing of his friend Benedetti.
“‘Mario lost the battle, as did we his friends and readers. The memory will remain, as will the books, but at this moment the memory and the books seem so little to us,’ he wrote. The Portuguese writer added, in a brief message that appeared the following day, that ‘our head tells us that there are no miracles, but the heart insists upon believing that a miracle now and then — although not changing the order of the world — would come to us as compensation for the inevitable sadnesses of life. The pain and sadness of this will not be alleviated soon. Mario Benedetti was here, and now he is no longer.’