Mario Benedetti, 1920 To 2009
Martyn Richard Jones
The Jewish Chronicle website – 19th May 2009
The Uruguayan writer Mario Orlando Hamlet Hardy Brenno Benedetti Farugia, better known as Mario Benedetti, is no longer with us. Born in the small town of Paso de los Toros in the department of Tacuarembó, on the 14th of September 1920, he died in his home in the city of Montevideo, this last Sunday (17/5/2009), at the age of 88.
Although relatively little known in the English-speaking world, Benedetti was widely appreciated in the Spanish-speaking world. He was the author of over eighty books of poetry, novels, short stories and essays, as well as screenplays, and was awarded the Premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana (1999), the Premio Iberoamericano José Martí (2001) and the Premio Internacional Menéndez Pelayo (2005).
Following a succession of jobs, Benedetti started his literary life in 1945, when he joined the staff of Marcha, a Uruguayan magazine, and worked alongside Juan Carlos Onetti and Carlos Quijano, both well known writers in their own right in Latin America and Spain. The following year he married Luz López Alegre, his companion and the great love of his life.
Following the Military Coup in Uruguay in 1973, Benedetti was forced into exile, which was to last for 10 years, up until his return to his native country in March of 1983. In that time in exile he lived in various places, including Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba and Spain. Two years later, the popular Catalan singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat recorded the ground-breaking album El Sur También Existe (The south also exists), a collection of Benedetti’s poems set to music, in which the poet personally collaborated in its making.
Of his literary output perhaps the work that really stands out are his early titles, such as Montevideanos (1959), which describes the life of civil servants in the Uruguayan capital, with their sense of hierarchy and morals. In his novels La Tregua (1960), which was adapted for theater, radio and television, and made into a film in 1974, Gracias por el Fuego (1963), also adapted for film. In 1971 he published El cumpleaños de Juan Ángel ( 1971), a novel in verse, the critical purpose of which is to reveal characters and state of affairs thatwould expose the mediocrity of bourgeois values in an urban context.
In parallel, Benedetti developed a reputation for his outstanding work as a poet, and collected, expanded and edited an anthology of poetry under the title “Inventory”, a collection that consists of representative titles such as ” Poemas de la oficina ” (1956), ” Próximo prójimo ” (1965) and ” A ras de sueño “, published in 1967. In 1981 he wrote ” Geografías “, a book inspired by the motivation behind exile, which brough together stories and poems in one single masterful work of literature.
In 1975, Benedetti’s novel La Tregua (The Truce) was later made into a film, which was subsequently nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Foreign Film. He also later collaborated Daniel Viglietti, a Uruguayan singer-songwriter , in the making of the album A Dos Voces.
Benedetti had always been politically aware, and in January 2006, he was to join other distinguished figures such as Gabriel García Márquez, Eduardo Galeano, Carlos Monsiváis, Jorge Enrique Adoum, Pablo Milanés, Mayra Montero, and Ana Lydia Vega, to demand sovereignty for Puerto Rico .
As for myself, I had the good fortune to meet Benedetti several times when I lived in Spain during the eighties and early nineties. After 1983, Benedetti was to divide his time between Montevideo and Madrid. He was a generous, warm and modest person, who loved to share time with his readers. Many people have contributed his widespread literary success to his discreteness and his straightforward manner and the direct way he had of connecting and communicating with his readers.
From his literature, and from talking with the man himself, it was very easy to understand why he became considered to be one of the most representative of Latin American writers of a generation that was politically committed to the Cuban Revolution and Latin America, and which also lead to his recognition by the Latin American left.
José Saramago, in praising the literary excellence and humanity of Benedetti, and his ability to communicate with many people, also lamented the loss of a friend and a brother: “He always held the ingenuous idea that you can postpone the inevitable, but we cannot, and when the inevitable arrives, as with Mario Benedetti, it’s very hard”. Saramago also praised the diversity of the works of Benedetti: “He wrote everything, he had an extraordinary capacity for work and, with his genius, his talent and courage, and we can say that it has been very beautiful work”.
On hearing the news of Benedetti’s death, the Spanish poet José Manuel Caballero Bonald declared that Benedetti had “united poetry and history in a very skilful and intelligent form” and that an outstanding aspect of his work was that of social critique, powerfully underscored by its intelligence.
His last published work was a book of poems, Testigo de Uno Mismo (One’s Own Witness), which came out last August. Immediately prior to his death, Benedetti had been working on a new book of poetry whose working title was Biografía Para Encontrarme (Biography to find myself).
To paraphrase the words of Saramago, perhaps the greatest thing about Benedetti, as a writer, is that he was the poet who best represented the genuine voice of his own people. He was a person for whom all language and all of its words were poetic. He strove to tirelessly and persistently search for a meaning, a purpose and a sense of life, in the human condition, on the planet, in the country, in the towns and villages, at home or simply in collective and popular action. In other words, Benedetti was a universal poet, a poet for all humanity, and a truly extraordinary human being.
Mario Benedetti : 14 de septiembre de 1920, Paso de los Toros – 17 de mayo de 2009