Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Guest-Blogger Harry Morales: Flowers for Mario Benedetti

Harry Morales is not only one of the best but also one of the most tirelessly and scrupulously dedicated translators of Spanish literature. He has accumulated such a long list of publications I couldn't begin to cover it all, but suffice it say, it is a great honor for me that my anthology, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion includes two of his superb translations, of a short story by Ilan Stavans and an essay by Alberto Ruy Sanchez. For many years, Morales has dedicated himself to translating the wide-ranging works of Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti. In 2006, Morales published a landmark collection of Benedetti's poetry, Only in the Meantime and Office Poems. Shortly thereafter, Benedetti passed away. (If you haven't heard of Benedetti, to give you an idea of how enormous an event his passing was, check out these pictures of his funeral.) This month, Morales is scheduled to bring out another landmark-- this time, a collection of Benedetti's short stories. Over to you, Harry.

More than six months after the renowned writer Mario Benedetti’s death at the age of 88 in Montevideo, Uruguay on May 17th, 2009, I received a familiar light brown, and deceptively flimsy large envelope from my pal Gonzalo in Buenos Aires. Over the years, Gonzalo has mailed me envelopes containing some interview or article about Benedetti and his work. For some reason or other, I had forgotten that I had especially asked him to mail me the many obituaries and tributes which would surely appear in every major newspaper in Latin America-– probably all of which published his syndicated column. The contents of the envelope was a mix of the standard AP wire service articles about his death and several very touching short essays about Benedetti’s many amusing habits and his very close and dedicated friendships with other writers and editors. I was quite touched by the personal reminiscences and was subtly reminded that perhaps my work as Benedetti’s translator for the last 20 plus years has been a vital venture all along.

In August, Host Publications will honor Mario Benedetti, and by extension, me, when it releases The Rest is Jungle and Other Stories, a volume of 45 stories in my English translation. It is my hope that this volume will serve as a humble, but fitting and just tribute to a true “man of letters” who authored more than 90 books and was widely adored throughout Latin America. Just imagine the following scene which is recounted by Hortensia Campanella, a Uruguayan journalist and literary critic, in the prologue of her biography of Benedetti – which appeared in Mexico several weeks after his death – titled Mario Benedetti: Un Mito Discretísimo (A Very Discreet Myth):

“There was a queue of people, in two’s and three’s; almost all of them rowdy, twenty-year old men, and then there were also those who look like survivors from the sixties. It extended for meters and meters, turned next to the Cibeles fountain, heading up Alcalá Street. Many had books, and all of them, patience; there had not been much publicity, but the news had been passed on with euphoria: Mario Benedetti was going to be 80, and although there was a week of homage’s in the Casa de Américas de Madrid, on that Thursday he alone was reading his poems.

When I accompanied him across the garden I saw the smiling looks, and like him, heard the spontaneous greetings. Suddenly a very young girl approached him with a flower, it was a spikenard, I think. She handed it to him, and when the writer, a little confused, gave it to me, I asked her why it had occurred to her to do that. And she answered: ‘I didn’t want to ask him for anything; he’s given me so much that I thought the only thing I could do was bring him a flower.’”

The Rest is Jungle and Other Stories is my flower of multi-colored petals to Benedetti, which I place at his feet, followed by a deep bow and bent knee.

--- Harry Morales

---> For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.

P.S. Read this review of The Rest is Jungle in Hayden's Ferry Review. Includes some excellent background and links about Benedetti.

And here's the book's catalog description:

In this exquisite new short story collection, celebrated Latin American writer Mario Benedetti affords us a beguiling glimpse of a world in flux. Addressing subjects ranging from love and middle-class frustration in the city to the pain of exile, the stories in The Rest is Jungle transport the reader from the cafes of Montevideo to the fault lines that divide nations and people. Whether poking fun at the pretentions of the contemporary literary scene, or offering a moving portrait of multi-generational family life, Benedetti discerns the irony, humor and heartbreak in every situation. From the hilarious depiction of an office worker battling with bureaucracy, to a domestic tragedy recounted from the perspective of an eavesdropping family pet, the stories in this playful and provocative collection throw light on that curious realm where our public and private lives intersect. The Rest is Jungle is a remarkable showcase for the work of a writer who sought to speak of love, power and commitment as directly and passionately as possible.