Arts 02/05/11

Latin America mourns literary lions; Macondo in Mandarin.

Ernesto Sábato's wake in Buenos Aires

Argentine writer and painter Ernesto Sábato died at his home in Buenos Aires in the early morning of Saturday, 30 April at age 99. A distinguished author, he achieved recognition for his three novels ‘El Tunél’ (1948), ‘Sobre heroes y tumbas’ (1961) and ‘Abaddón el exterminador’ (1974). He was also a prolific essayist and was honored with prizes from around the world throughout his career, such as the Légion d’Honneur, the Prix Médicis, and the Premio Miguel de Cervantes. Spanish newspaper ‘El País’ eulogized him as ‘the last classic writer in Argentine literature’.

Perhaps Sábato’s greatest legacy was his work with the Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas (National Commission on Disappeared Persons—CONADEP), the truth commission established to investigate crimes and human rights abuses committed under Argentina’s military dictatorship. His 1983 report ‘Nunca Más’ (‘Never Again’) was a crucial indictment of crimes committed by the regime between 1976 and 1983 and was used in court cases after Argentina’s return to democracy.

Born in June 1911, Sábato led a varied career: he first trained as a physicist as a student in Argentina, but his interest and involvement with communism took him to Europe in the 1930s. He gave up his communist activism after becoming disillusioned with Stalin’s purges and pursued a career as a physicist in Paris at the Joliot-Curie laboratory, where he contributed to work on splitting the uranium atom. His friendship with writers and artists such as Roberto Matta, Wilfredo Lam, and André Breton eventually led him to pursue more artistic work and he turned to literature and painting. Upon his death, his son Mario released a statement saying ‘With pride and gladness we know that [our family] shared our father with many people, who loved and needed him as much as we did’.

Sábato’s body was taken to his neighborhood club, Club Defensores de Santos Lugares, where a wake was held until Sunday morning; a funeral procession later accompanied him to the private cemetery Malvinas Argentinas. Buenos Aires turned out in huge numbers to bid farewell to the writer.

A fatal week for Latin American men of letters—Chilean poet Gonzalo Rojas died on Monday 25 April, aged 93, and Peruvian writer Carlos Eduardo Zavaleta died on Tuesday 26 April. Also a recipient of the Cervantes Prize (in 2003), Rojas was the author of a number of books of poetry in the avant-garde and surrealist tradition. A wake was held over Rojas’s body at the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago, and the state declared two days of national mourning to honor him.

Peruvian Carlos Eduardo Zavaleta died in Lima at age 83. The author of ‘El Cristo Villenas’ and ‘El cielo sin cielo de Lima’, his work, which broke strongly with indigenismo, was considered innovative during the 1950s. He greatly admired William Faulkner and James Joyce; Mario Vargas Llosa credits Zavaleta with introducing him to Faulkner.

An authorized Mandarin translation of Gabriel García Márquez’s masterpiece ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ should shortly be forthcoming. A Chinese publisher, Thinkingdom House, recently brought the rights to the book at auction for a sum of over $1m. Pirated copies of the book abound in China, as they have for years, enraging García Márquez—on a visit in 1990 he swore that his books would not be authorized in China even 150 years after his death. But the publisher’s persistence speaks to the Chinese public’s interest in the book and the state of arts and culture in China, according to Penguin China director Jo Lusby: ‘Even at a time when writers and artists (such as Ai Weiwei) are disappearing in crackdowns, publishers are bullish about the future, and it’s one of the few places in the world where you can attend the opening of a large scale chain bookstore.’

Cuban writer Fina García Marruz was awarded the Premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana in Madrid on Thursday, 28 April. A celebrated poet and essayist, García Marruz is the author of ‘Las miradas perdidas’ (‘Lost gazes’) and ‘Viaje a Nicaragua’ (‘Journey to Nicaragua’). The Reina Sofia prize honors a living writer whose body of work has contributed significantly to Hispanophone literature and culture. García Marruz beat out over 50 other nominees for the prize and 42.100 €.


More reactions to the Soumaya Museum from critics around the world. ‘Eclectic‘ seems to be the most charitable consensus.

Interesting profile of 14 year-old Brazilian cartoonist João Montanaro, whose work runs in the newspaper ‘Folha’. More of Montanaro’s work can be seen here, where his book (!) is also available for purchase.

Shakira has just released the cover image for her single ‘Rabiosa’, from her album ‘Sale el Sol’. The song can be heard here.

Mexican-American journalist Daniel Hernández has recently released his book ‘Down & Delirious in Mexico City: The Aztec Metropolis in the Twenty-First Century’, published by Scribner. The book explores the city and details his experiences there; it is also an account of ‘second- and third-generation Mexican Americans reconnecting with their cultural roots’.