20 November 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Arianne Aron on The Truce by Mario Benedetti, published by Penguin Random House UK.

Here is the beginning of Arianne’s review:

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country, he was an outspoken supporter of the Frente Amplio, resisting the brutal dictatorship that forced him into a 12-year exile. He was a man who took sides, and took chances. That such a man could invent the intimate diary of a person like Martín Santomé says much for Benedetti’s deep sensitivity to the human condition. The diary is the text for his 1960 novel La Tregua (The Truce).

Martín Santomé is a 49-year-old worn out accountant close to retirement, a widower living with his three grown children. A casual bed fellow once described him as looking like a clerk even when he’s making love. He is so unimaginative that, of all the occupations in the world, what he would choose if he’d be something other than an accountant, is to be a waiter. As he looks back on the 20 years since his wife’s death, he realizes that he hasn’t been happy, but he did right by his children. He was spared “the unyielding look that is reserved for heartless fathers.”


For the rest of the review, go here.

20 November 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country, he was an outspoken supporter of the Frente Amplio, resisting the brutal dictatorship that forced him into a 12-year exile. He was a man who took sides, and took chances. That such a man could invent the intimate diary of a person like Martín Santomé says much for Benedetti’s deep sensitivity to the human condition. The diary is the text for his 1960 novel La Tregua (The Truce).

Martín Santomé is a 49-year-old worn out accountant close to retirement, a widower living with his three grown children. A casual bed fellow once described him as looking like a clerk even when he’s making love. He is so unimaginative that, of all the occupations in the world, what he would choose if he’d be something other than an accountant, is to be a waiter. As he looks back on the 20 years since his wife’s death, he realizes that he hasn’t been happy, but he did right by his children. He was spared “the unyielding look that is reserved for heartless fathers.”

A man of his times, Santomé is upset by his younger son’s homosexuality. He blames himself for Jaime’s “deviance,” and can’t understand why Blanca and Esteban turned out “normal.” But Martín Santomé continues to be the dutiful father, and we appreciate him for that, just as we forgive him for defining women by their body parts and believing that when they’re menstruating they can’t concentrate. Unlike certain contemporary homophobes and misogynists, he has no rancor toward gays and women, and is in fact a person who both tolerates and accepts differences so well that he welcomes a female colleague at work when she is one of three new employees assigned to his department. As with the male workers, he calls her by her family name, which happens to be the surname of the author who wrote a phony Part Two of Don Quixote (a book that made Cervantes very angry because in the counterfeit edition, Don Quixote falls out of love with Dulcinea). Benedetti, the consummate writer, must have seen something compelling there, because soon after Avellaneda comes to work for Santomé, he falls in love with her—with a love that is transformative and enduring.

Martín Santomé had never imagined this romance. For a long time he’d been satisfied with anonymous one-night stands that had nothing in common with the sense of communion he’d felt with Isabel, his deceased wife. With her, he tells his diary, “every one of my impulses mathematically found its own receptive echo. We were made for each other.” The love for Avellaneda, a woman half his age, was a surprise that happened to him, not something he’d gone looking for.

When the accountant first contemplates what it could be like with Avellaneda, what troubles him most is the mismatch between what he sees as her youthful expectations and his future of guaranteed arthritis—the portent of a relationship with barely a temporary patent. In ten years, when he’s pushing 60 and she is 33: will she cheat on him? Leave him for a younger man? As the affair progresses, though, Avellaneda declares her love, explaining to Martín that it’s not for his face, or his years, or his words, or his intentions that she loves him, but because he is a good man. His preoccupation now becomes her future happiness. He broods over whether there will be enough strength and longevity to give her a good life, a concern that becomes sadly ironic as the story unfolds.

Harry Morales, the translator of this intriguing novel, does a fine job of giving Santomé a voice in English. Whether the accountant is speaking of the tedium and frustrations of office work, or the aging lover is fretting over physical and existential issues inherent in May-December romances, or the rejuvenated man is reflecting on his feelings for this “truce” that is occurring in his otherwise dreary life, the diarist’s entries—always a bit reserved—draw us in and make us a part of his world.

Though Martín Santomé’s world is confined to the small middle-class society of Montevideo in mid-twentieth-century Uruguay, his issues with family, career, aging, retirement, and above all, love and loss, resonate beyond borders and time to make his diary a touching and rewarding universal read. Of the ninety books Benedetti published, The Truce stands out for its popularity, with more than a million copies sold, translation into twenty languages, and a 1974 film version by Sergio Renán that was nominated for an Academy Award. In Martín Santomé’s simple urban life there is a depth and authenticity that people everywhere can identify with and appreciate, and now, with Harry Morales’s refreshing new translation, readers of English can enjoy this engaging novel by one of Latin America’s most acclaimed writers.

7 July 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The second quarterfinal matchup today features Mexican author Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd up against Uruguay stalwart Mario Benedetti and his The Rest Is Jungle.

Luiselli got to this match by sliding past the Croatian representative Dubravka Ugresic and her Baba Yaga Laid an Egg 3-2 and then running rampant over Australia and Murnane’s Barley Patch by a score of 3-0.

Benedetti’s first-round matchup was against Costa Rica and Óscar Núñez Olivas’s Cadence of the Moon. He won by a score of 2-1. In the second round, The Rest Is Jungle triumphed over Allah Is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma by a score of 1-0.

Here we go!

Chad W. Post: Mexico

I said all I have to say about this book in my post on the second round. It’s brilliant in any context, and definitely deserves to move on to the semifinals.


Mexico 1 – Uruguay 0


Mauro Javier Cardenas: Mexico

It is exciting when a debut shows so much promise, so much wistfulness written in the kind of Spanish prose I prefer: an admixture of casual and literary, the American English of New York visiting paragraphs every now and again. No fue penal!


Mexico 2 – Uruguay 0


Katrine Jensen: Mexico

Everybody should read Faces in the Crowd. Read it for Luiselli’s language. Read it for the masterly translation by MacSweeney.


Mexico 3 – Uruguay 0


Nick Long: Mexico

Mexico (Faces in the Crowd) wins by its sheer pace, a literary zoetrope filled with allusions distilled into vignettes that dress up this boring match. The breadth and depth of Faces in the Crowd’s references are legion, and literature is just like soccer, in which things are always fluid and bribing the referee is usually the best plan of action. Mexico may not be able to win in Ohio, but calling upon the powers of d.a. levy was sufficient to bring victory to Faces in the Crowd (albeit not Dos a Cero).


Mexico 4 – Uruguay 0


Laura Radosh: Mexico

No match. Does Benedetti write well? Of course he does, he made it this far. Does it hold up to Luiselli’s fragmented wild ride through the (literary) ghosts of two cities? No. Win for Mexico.


Mexico 5 – Uruguay 0


Elianna Kan: Mexico

Mexico! A million times Mexico!


Mexico 6 – Uruguay 0


Kaija Straumanis: Mexico

I enjoyed Benedetti’s short stories—I really did. But not even 10 pages into Faces in the Crowd) I’m already so hooked, so much more interested in what the following pages will hold and what Luiselli will do with her novel that it already outshines most everything done in The Rest Is Jungle. Also, Luiselli is kind of hot and, well, Uruguayans bite people.


Mexico 7 – Uruguay 0


Well, that was rather convincing . . . Mexico annihilates Uruguay and cruised into the semifinals to play either France or America—we’ll find out if it’s Houellebecq or David Foster Wallace tomorrow . . .

——

Did Faces in the Crowd Deserve to Make it to the Semifinals?

Yes
No


17 March 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

Similar to years past, we’re going to be featuring each of the 25 titles on the BTBA Fiction Longlist over the next month plus, but in contrast to previous editions, this year we’re going to try an experiment and frame all write-ups as “why this book should win.” Some of these entries will be absurd, some more serious, some very funny, a lot written by people who normally don’t contribute to Three Percent. Overall, the point is to have some fun and give you a bunch of reasons as to why you should read at least a few of the BTBA titles._

Click here for all past and future posts.

The Rest Is Jungle & Other Stories by Mario Benedetti, translated by Harry Morales

Language: Spanish
Country: Uruguay
Publisher: Host Publications
Pages: 296

Why This Book Should Win: Harry Morales has been championing Benedetti for years, and a victory could lead to more Benedetti books making their way into English; Host Publications deserves some extra attention; the cover has matches on it.

Today’s entry is from David Krinick, a former intern at Open Letter. He wrote this review last summer, and it’s a great overview of this book.

Mario Benedetti is a name seldom recognized in the United States, but lasting memory and love of the writer’s prolific career maintains his popularity in Latin America. His multifaceted talent over language produced a dizzying eighty published books, writing as a poet, short story writer, novelist, critic, journalist and political activist. Born in Uruguay in 1920 and coming of age in Montevideo, the nations largest city and capitol, he lived during a period of economic success and social liberty that his neighboring country’s failed to maintain. This milieu left its mark on his writing, manifesting a distinctly urban voice that captures the often isolated existences that modern cities have produced. He explored characters and environments of social and political repression that stemmed from the plights of Uruguay’s neighboring countries and later its own military dictatorship which forced him into exile in 1973. Whether his narrations embody embittered lovers, pets, or fragmented psyches eager for attention, Benedetti’s origins as a poet penetrates his short stories with lucid descriptions that illuminate his often bleak landscapes. From “Forgotten Memories”:

Fernando is sweet and his weight doesn’t weigh on me his bones fit into my sockets and I clearly see the juicy sadness of being happy not like with Eduardo of course because this heavenly bliss is also part of my grief this apex also part of my ruin but the body is pragmatic and saves us saves me through pleasure like this one that now penetrates me saves us though the tongues that communicate and console our loneliness purifies us in the lament that is an appeal and is a response and thus I come and go and you come and go Fernando in my ego your home your birthplace your bed tell me again Lucía because with your clamor you give me my identity you give me my body give me my nature you give me you give me oh how much you’ve giving me Fernando Eduardo Fernando Eduardo Fernando Fernando Fernando I exist again.

The Rest Is Jungle and Other Stories (recently published by the admirable Host Publications) offers a rare survey of the author’s short stories that spans over fifty decades of work. The stories collected act as vignettes that offer the reader brief perspectives of the many unremarkable lives of many of Uruguay’s urban citizens. In works such as “The Iriarte Family” Benedetti shows the life of a secretary’s febrile romanticizing of a female’s voice and the subsequent disintegration of his real life relationship. His character’s are repeatedly confronted with outcomes that contradict what they thought they originally desired.

Later stories reflect the author’s exile, evoking voices from the previous generation’s émigré writers such as Nabokov and Bunin. In “Completely Absent-Minded” an exiled politician’s dazed wayfaring across Europe brings him unexpectedly back to his home country, where he is quickly arrested. Benedetti’s voice shifts from the expository urban observer to a ruthless dissector of individual’s morals that passively accept their government’s yoke. Stories such as “Listening to Mozart,” “Nineteen” and “Answering Machine” expose cases of loyalty motivated by fear and self-preservation. From “Listening to Mozart”:

Sometimes, you too interrogate without conviction, and if you use electric shock, that’s precisely the reason why; because you don’t have any confidence in your own line of reasoning, because you know that no one is suddenly going to turn into a traitor just because you evoke the fatherland or curse at them.

Benedetti’s fearless writing chronicles a dark period in Latin American history, one where loved ones would disappear over night, never to be seen again. This collection, however, also resonates with the author’s desire to speak of love and our need for one another despite the estranged natures that society and politics cultivates in us. He explores the lines between public and private lives, illuminating our curious passions with a sense of irony, humor and gravity. The Rest Is Jungle affords a great introduction into the provocative career of one of Latin America’s most beloved authors.

10 August 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I’m sort of on vacation this week (and will literally be out of town on Thursday and Friday), so instead of writing a lot of new posts, I’m instead going to run a bunch of reviews that I’ve been storing up. First in the queue is David Krinick’s piece on Mario Benedetti’s The Rest Is Jungle and Other Stories, which was translated from the Spanish by Harry Morales and will be out from Host Publications next week.

As David mentions, Benedetti is a big name in Latin American literature, but not all that well known among English-readers. That’s no fault of Morales’s—he’s been pushing to get Benedetti’s works published for quite some time now. Harry’s a great translator, and it’s great to see at least one of the books he was championing available to the masses.

David’s interning here this summer, packing catalogs, reading submissions, and setting up sales calls with bookstores. (Among other fun intern activities.)

Here’s the opening of his review:

Mario Benedetti is a name seldom recognized in the United States, but lasting memory and love of the writer’s prolific career maintains his popularity in Latin America. His multifaceted talent over language produced a dizzying eighty published books, writing as a poet, short story writer, novelist, critic, journalist and political activist. Born in Uruguay in 1920 and coming of age in Montevideo, the nations largest city and capitol, he lived during a period of economic success and social liberty that his neighboring country’s failed to maintain. This milieu left its mark on his writing, manifesting a distinctly urban voice that captures the often isolated existences that modern cities have produced. He explored characters and environments of social and political repression that stemmed from the plights of Uruguay’s neighboring countries and later its own military dictatorship which forced him into exile in 1973. Whether his narrations embody embittered lovers, pets, or fragmented psyches eager for attention, Benedetti’s origins as a poet penetrates his short stories with lucid descriptions that illuminate his often bleak landscapes. From “Forgotten Memories”:

“Fernando is sweet and his weight doesn’t weigh on me his bones fit into my sockets and I clearly see the juicy sadness of being happy not like with Eduardo of course because this heavenly bliss is also part of my grief this apex also part of my ruin but the body is pragmatic and saves us saves me through pleasure like this one that now penetrates me saves us though the tongues that communicate and console our loneliness purifies us in the lament that is an appeal and is a response and thus I come and go and you come and go Fernando in my ego your home your birthplace your bed tell me again Lucía because with your clamor you give me my identity you give me my body give me my nature you give me you give me oh how much you’ve giving me Fernando Eduardo Fernando Eduardo Fernando Fernando Fernando I exist again.”

Click here to read the full review, and click here to visit our complete review section.

10 August 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Mario Benedetti is a name seldom recognized in the United States, but lasting memory and love of the writer’s prolific career maintains his popularity in Latin America. His multifaceted talent over language produced a dizzying eighty published books, writing as a poet, short story writer, novelist, critic, journalist and political activist. Born in Uruguay in 1920 and coming of age in Montevideo, the nations largest city and capitol, he lived during a period of economic success and social liberty that his neighboring country’s failed to maintain. This milieu left its mark on his writing, manifesting a distinctly urban voice that captures the often isolated existences that modern cities have produced. He explored characters and environments of social and political repression that stemmed from the plights of Uruguay’s neighboring countries and later its own military dictatorship which forced him into exile in 1973. Whether his narrations embody embittered lovers, pets, or fragmented psyches eager for attention, Benedetti’s origins as a poet penetrates his short stories with lucid descriptions that illuminate his often bleak landscapes. From “Forgotten Memories”:

Fernando is sweet and his weight doesn’t weigh on me his bones fit into my sockets and I clearly see the juicy sadness of being happy not like with Eduardo of course because this heavenly bliss is also part of my grief this apex also part of my ruin but the body is pragmatic and saves us saves me through pleasure like this one that now penetrates me saves us though the tongues that communicate and console our loneliness purifies us in the lament that is an appeal and is a response and thus I come and go and you come and go Fernando in my ego your home your birthplace your bed tell me again Lucía because with your clamor you give me my identity you give me my body give me my nature you give me you give me oh how much you’ve giving me Fernando Eduardo Fernando Eduardo Fernando Fernando Fernando I exist again.

The Rest Is Jungle and Other Stories (recently published by the admirable Host Publications) offers a rare survey of the author’s short stories that spans over fifty decades of work. The stories collected act as vignettes that offer the reader brief perspectives of the many unremarkable lives of many of Uruguay’s urban citizens. In works such as “The Iriarte Family” Benedetti shows the life of a secretary’s febrile romanticizing of a female’s voice and the subsequent disintegration of his real life relationship. His character’s are repeatedly confronted with outcomes that contradict what they thought they originally desired.

Later stories reflect the author’s exile, evoking voices from the previous generation’s émigré writers such as Nabokov and Bunin. In “Completely Absent-Minded” an exiled politician’s dazed wayfaring across Europe brings him unexpectedly back to his home country, where he is quickly arrested. Benedetti’s voice shifts from the expository urban observer to a ruthless dissector of individual’s morals that passively accept their government’s yoke. Stories such as “Listening to Mozart,” “Nineteen” and “Answering Machine” expose cases of loyalty motivated by fear and self-preservation. From “Listening to Mozart”:

Sometimes, you too interrogate without conviction, and if you use electric shock, that’s precisely the reason why; because you don’t have any confidence in your own line of reasoning, because you know that no one is suddenly going to turn into a traitor just because you evoke the fatherland or curse at them.

Benedetti’s fearless writing chronicles a dark period in Latin American history, one where loved ones would disappear over night, never to be seen again. This collection, however, also resonates with the author’s desire to speak of love and our need for one another despite the estranged natures that society and politics cultivates in us. He explores the lines between public and private lives, illuminating our curious passions with a sense of irony, humor and gravity. The Rest Is Jungle affords a great introduction into the provocative career of one of Latin America’s most beloved authors.

....
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