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Remembering Benedetti

Pablo Izmirlian, a reporter for the culture section of the weekly paper Búsqueda in Montevideo, Uruguay, offered this remembrance of one of his country's finest authors, Mario Benedetti, who died this week.

Izmirlian writes:

When I was in my senior year of high school I won a poetry competition in my school. The award, given to me during the graduation ceremony, was a book: "Inventario Dos," by Mario Benedetti, a collection of the poetry he published between 1986 and 1991.

That's how I met Benedetti. I was so excited with my prize and his poetry that I made a habit of keeping track of him when he spent time in Montevideo, as he lived between this city and Madrid. But then I actually met Benedetti.

I was listening to AM radio on the bus because Benedetti was being interviewed live. I was in college then. The interview ended halfway. Minutes later I got off the bus and was walking to school when I saw Benedetti slowly crawling out of a cab on the corner of 18 de Julio and Cuareim. I approached him and told him I had been listening to the interview.

He didn't seem happy about this kid blocking his way and talking to him, but I kept on rambling on me having "Inventario Dos" as a prize from a poetry contest, and how I looked up to him. He said he was happy to hear that, excused himself and kept walking.
Mario Benedetti passed away May 17. He was 88.

Sadly enough, this happened only a few weeks after the death of Idea Vilariño, one of the greatest female writers born in this country. They both belonged to the famed and pivotal Generación del '45, alongside names like Carlos Real de Azúa and Juan Carlos Onetti.

As I grew up, I kept on spotting Benedetti. He was a regular at a restaurant a few blocks away from the newsroom where I work. But I didn't try to talk to him anymore. In the last few years Benedetti looked tired. More so after he lost his beloved wife, Luz. Still, he kept writing and publishing regularly. One of his last works was titled "Vivir adrede": "live deliberately" would be a fair translation.

However, his work of this last era was harshly criticized. Some critics even argued that he should have retired from publishing rather than exposing himself in public like that. More often than not, Benedetti was critized more for his leftwing politics than for his actual production.

While Benedetti's body of work exceeds any ideological pigeon-hole, it was true that the books of the last few years were the output of a tired man. Anyone really interested should check the collection "Poemas de la Oficina" (1953-1956), which describe the monotonous life in an office with a somewhat depressing present-day relevance and accuracy, or search old archives for the movie critic Benedetti of the sixties, or be impressed by the acute intellectual who penned the essay "El país de la cola de paja" (1960).

Mario Benedetti was, is and will probably be for decades to come the author that equals to the entry level to uruguayan literature. He sure was for me. Thank you for the fire, Mario.

Pablo Izmirlian

By Adam Bernstein  |  May 20, 2009; 11:23 AM ET
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