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The Prolific Mr. Benedetti

Joe Holley

Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti, who died May 17 at age 88, is not as well known in the English-speaking world as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortazar, Carlos Fuentes or Mario Vargas Llosa, but he certainly played in their league. He was immensely prolific, publishing novels, poetry, short stories, plays, screenplays and journalism into his 80s. "Don Mario," as he was known to his friends, also was political and was forced into exile when a military dictatorship took over "the Switzerland of America" in 1973. He was a lifelong admirer of Fidel Castro.

There's a little bit of Kafka in Benedetti, particularly when he writes about ordinary middle-class folks in Montevideo going about their everyday lives, much of it in humdrum office settings. He had a lot of experiences in offices himself, including 15 years working for a Montevideo real estate firm. Offices in Benedetti's works tend to suck the life out of people. By the time they realize their dire condition -- usually when they're about to retire -- it's too late to do anything about it.

The 1992 Argentine film "El Lado Oscuro del Corazón" (The dark side of the heart), features his poems. A surreal drama about a poet in search of a perfect woman, the film has Benedetti in the small role of a German who recites his verse to a bemused hostess in a bar.

By Joe Holley  |  May 18, 2009; 5:45 PM ET
Categories:  Joe Holley  
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