Saturday, July 13, 2013


It is now a half century since the publication of Julio Cotázar's most acclaimed work, Rayuela.  Next year will mark the centenary of the author's birth.  All the publicity around these events reminded me that I had never made a serious effort to read Cotázar.  When I complained to a friend that I had always found Cotázar difficult to read, he suggested I try the short stories.

So, I went to the UNM Library and picked up a couple of the collections of short works by Cotázar, Bestiario and Las Armas Secretas.  They turned out to be good choices, with stories from early and later periods of his work.  The Bestiario stories relate strongly to the author's experience of growing up in Buenos Aires, while those in Las Armas Secretas reflect his later life in Paris.  The latter collection includes Las Babas del Diablo, which became the basis for the famous film, Blow-up, about the accidental recording of a crime in a photograph.  As my friend suggested, the short stories are more accessible to someone like me with modest linguistic skills, and I am encouraged to look now at some of the longer works.

I was also inspired to look more deeply into Cotázar's life story, which is quite extraordinary.  He started writing as a very young child, began an early career as a teacher at age eighteen in Argentina, got a scholarship to study in France based on his first novels, became a Unesco interpreter, and produced translations of classic French, German and English literary works.  Cotázar was tremendously productive in his own original creative work throughout his life.  In later life, he lent his talents to supporting liberation movements throughout Latin America.  Of course, he was also an enthusiastic photographer, which also increases his appeal for me.

Luckily for me, the UNM Library has a complete collection of Cotázar's work, as well as a very large selection of the critical and biographical writings about him, many in both Spanish and English.  For instance, there is a copy of a rare and very fine appreciation of Cotázar  published in 2004; it is entitled Cotázar: Presencias.  The book traces out his life year by year through Cotázar's own words, which are interspersed with reminiscences by people who knew him well at different periods in his life.  Cotázar was greatly admired as a writer and as a man by his contemporaries, and the testimonies to that fact in the book nicely fill in the many blanks which are left in a reading dependent solely on what is available on line.

Here is a snippet from the Nicaraguan poet, Claribel Alegría, about Cotázar's third wife, Carol Dunlop (my translation):

"In 1976 Julio met in Montreal Carol Dunlop, a north american girl who had protested against the war in Vietnam.  In one of many demonstrations at the University, the police went after the students with tear gas. Carol decided to go to live in Canada.  Settling in Montreal, she learned French, married, had a son, divorced and refused to speak English.  Many years later Bud (Alegría's husband) convinced her not to abandon her mother tongue.  English is so beautiful --he said to her-- and it has nothing to do with the criminals that hounded you.  Finally, she relented.  Julio was happy.  He was much older than Carol but they made a delicious couple.  Carol was a writer and a very good photographer.  They wrote a book together, Los Autonautas de la Cosmopista."

Cotázar was a world traveler and a committed photographer long before he met Dunlop.  One of his trips took him to India where he photographed the 18th Century Jantar Mantar Observatory.  Those photos along with an accompanying poetic text were published in 1972 as Prosa Del Observatorio.  I believe it is his only published photographic work; I have it and am looking forward to reading it after I finish with the short stories.

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