Powell’s Review A Day has an interesting review of Mario Benedetti’s The Rest is Jungle (I also reviewed at the Quarterly Conversation). It came out a while ago but I’ve been meaning to post it here as a way to give more coverage to this excellent book. If you read my review, you’ll probably have a sense of the stories themselves. If you read this review, you learn more about his life.
When the great Mario Benedetti passed away at the age of 88 in May 2009, thousands of people throughout his native Uruguay and the rest of Latin America mourned the loss deeply. In the United States and other English-speaking countries, however, the death of this renowned literary master garnered little but a passing mention. As the author of more than 80 books (poems, short stories, novels, plays, and essays), Benedetti was as beloved and respected a man of letters as the Southern Cone has ever produced.
In addition to his creative works, Benedetti was also a journalist and outspoken political activist. He helped coordinate the Broad Front (Frente Amplio), a coalition of leftwing political groups organized to combat Uruguay’s ruling parties. As political tensions grew during the tumultuous years of the early 1970s (as they did throughout Latin America), repressive actions by the military also grew in frequency and severity. Following the 1973 coup, Frente Amplio was outlawed, as was the magazine for which Benedetti wrote, forcing him into exile. He moved first to Buenos Aires whereupon a rightwing paramilitary group threatened him with death. From Argentina he traveled to Lima, Peru, but was soon detained and later deported, finally reaching Havana and eventually Madrid. Benedetti continued to write from abroad, heavily critical of the political oppression occurring in his homeland. It would be over a decade before his return to Uruguay, settling in Montevideo in 1985, where he lived for the remainder of his life. The political repression, censorship, and exile he endured largely influenced his writing.
With so little of Benedetti’s work to be found in English, the posthumous publication of a recently translated collection of his short stories is a welcome and well-deserved addition to what remains. Composed of nearly four dozen short stories, The Rest Is Jungle and Other Storiesspans 50 years of Benedetti’s literary career. With nary a weak piece to be found, this collection offers the full breadth of his remarkable short-story-writing prowess.