MARIO BENEDETTIby Harry Morales
Mario Benedetti was born on September 14th, 1920 in Pasa de los Toros, Tacuarembó Province, Uruguay. When he was four years old his family moved to Montevideo. Between 1938 and 1941 he lived in Buenos Aires almost continuously. When he returned to Montevideo in 1945, he published his first book, La Víspera Indelebe (Poems) and became the editor of Marcha. Although he was a trained accountant, he went on to publish Peripecia y Novela (Literary Criticism) in 1948, and a year later, Esta Mañana, his first book of stories. In 1953, he published his first novel, Quién de Nosotros, but it was with the publication of Montevideanos: Cuentos, (Stories), in 1959, that the urban concept of his narrative style took shape. With the publication of La Tregua in 1960, Benedetti acquired international pre-eminence. This novel, written in the form of a diary, has been published in more than one hundred editions, translated into nineteen languages, and has been adapted for the stage, screen, radio, and television. In the late fifties and sixties, he traveled extensively in Latin America, Europe, and the U.S. While in Cuba, he founded the world famous Centro de Investigaciones Literarias at Casa de las Americas, which he directed from 1969 to 1971. Returning to Uruguay in 1971, he opposed increasing government repression through his writing and participation in the leftist coalition known as the Frente Amplio, which he helped organize. Following the coup of June 1973, his work was banned by the Uruguayan military. Between 1973 and the return of the civilian government in 1985, he lived in exile in Argentina, Peru, Cuba, and Spain. Writing for an international audience, he denounced the tragic events occurring in Uruguay at the time. He resided in Montevideo since 1985 and devoted his full time to writing until his death in Montevideo on May 17th, 2009.
Benedetti is one of Latin America’s most highly renown and beloved authors who wrote (especially) about everyday life in Montevideo. Using well-balanced and appropriate doses of humor and colloquialisms, he showed a deep and poignant insight into his characters’ inner world and captured the problems of the city dwellers, who while trapped in an impersonal world, are building a shell to protect themselves from authentic feelings. As Jean Franco stated in The Modern Culture of Latin America, many of Uruguay’s problems stem from its high level of literacy and large middle class. “Modern Uruguay is a country of clerks and civil servants, and the hazards that face them are not those of violence and oppression, but of smugness and the excessive concern for security.” Consequently, Benedetti’s works are often set among office workers and members of the middle class, and in many, “the characters’ low-key lives take on a tragic tinge simply because they are caught in the trap of routine.”
As a poet, novelist, essayist, critic, journalist, playwright, songwriter, and screenwriter, Benedetti’s vast body of work encompasses every genre and is known worldwide. He wrote for magazines, newspapers, and various periodicals and journals in Uruguay, Argentina, and Mexico. In addition, selections of his work are represented in anthologies published in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, England, Italy, United States, Israel, Venezuela, and Spain. His poetic texts, some of them set to music and frequently performed at folk concerts, are familiar to the generations of Latin Americans who flocked to hear him whenever he appeared in public.
Translator HARRY MORALES is also the author of The Suit and Skirt Farm (Xlibris, 2002), a novel. He was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, in 1962, and was raised in New York City. He has studied literary translation under Gregory Rabassa and translated stories by the Uruguayan poet and novelist, Mario Benedetti, from various collections including Montevideanos: Cuentos, La Muerte y Otra Sorpresas: Cuentos, Esta Mañana: Cuentos, and Con y Sin Nostalgia: Cuentos, among others. He has translated the poetry of the late Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas, and the work of Eugenio María de Hostos, Emir Rodríguez Monegal, Juan Rulfo, Cristina Peri Rossi, Julia de Burgos, and Ilan Stavans, among many other Latin American poets and writers.