Paul Doyle reviews Mario Benedetti's The Rest is Jungle.
The Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti, sadly, was little translated into English during his lifetime, and most of what made it through was poetry. Perhaps this was because his fiction never quite fit the English-world model of a Latin American writer, neither writing the meta investigations of a Borges or Cortazar, nor delving into the magical realism of the Boom. Instead, his short stories were in a more realist vein, interested in urban dwellers; later, as he was marked by the turbulent history of Uruguay and its neighbor, Argentina, he reflected on the plight of the political prisoner and the exile. He was concerned with more than just 20th-century history, though, and he included in his stories moments of the fantastic and a humor that finds the foolishness in the deepest held aspirations of his characters. At his best, he combined these to draw portraits of stagnation, isolation, and the limiting power of dreams that are often funny, sometimes dark, and usually surprising.Click to read the full article
English-speaking readers can now see for themselves with Harry Morales’ excellent translation of Benedetti’s stories, The Rest Is Jungle. While his stories do vary in structure, one consistent feature is that Benedetti liked to work with voices, whether through conversations or first-person narratives bordering on neurotic self-justifications. Using the conversational structure allowed Benedetti to dispense with direct psychological insights and let his characters reveal themselves, though they are never fully aware (even though they think they are). Not extravagant in their confessions, all these people want to do is talk, to explain. They show that even the most quotidian things can be the most revealing, if you know where to look for it.