Mario Benedetti, 88; was leading Uruguayan novelist

Mario Benedetti wrote novels and poems that sought to capture the pulse of Montevideo, the nation's capital. Mario Benedetti wrote novels and poems that sought to capture the pulse of Montevideo, the nation's capital. (AP/ File 2005)
By Raul Garces
Associated Press / May 18, 2009
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MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay - Mario Benedetti, a prolific Uruguayan writer whose novels and poems reflect the idiosyncrasies of Montevideo's middle class and a social commitment forged by years in exile from a military dictatorship, died yesterday at his home. He was 88.

Mr. Benedetti had suffered from respiratory and intestinal problems for more than a year and had been released from a hospital on May 6, his personal secretary Ariel Silva said.

Called Don Mario by his friends, the mustachioed author wrote novels, poems, short stories, and plays, winning Bulgaria's Hristo Botev award for poetry and essays in 1985 and Amnesty International's Golden Flame in 1986. In 1999 he won the Queen Sofia prize for Iberoamerican poetry.

His writings on love, politics, and life in Uruguay's capital were turned into popular songs and a movie, and his readings in his homeland attracted sold-out crowds.

"I don't think we should be talking of a loss, because he will be with us forever," Culture Minister Maria Simon said.

Mr. Benedetti's 1960 novel "The Truce" was translated into 19 languages and, along with "Thank You for the Fire," heralded his inclusion in the Latin American literary boom in the 1960s with Colombia's Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Peru's Mario Vargas Llosa, and Mexico's Carlos Fuentes. While Mr. Benedetti was renowned throughout Latin America, he never attained the other authors' popularity in the English-speaking world.

Mr. Benedetti leaned to the political left and firmly defended the Cuban revolution. In 2006, he joined other Latin American leftist authors in a call for Puerto Rican independence.

The son of Italian immigrants, he was born in the city of Paso de los Toros. In 1973 he joined thousands of other Uruguayans fleeing the nation's military dictatorship, spending 12 years in exile in Havana, Madrid, Lima, and Buenos Aires.

"I think the only positive thing that came from Uruguay's dictatorship was the spread of Montevideo natives around the world, and I continued writing about them from my various places of exile," he once said.

Among his other major works were "Wind from Exile," "Montevideans," and his essay "The Latin American Writer and the Possible Revolution."