Currently, I am enjoying my winter break from college and I thought what would be better than to start a new book before I have to go back to college and get buried under a snowball of assignments again. So I went to the nearest bookstore, which in my case would be Waterstones located at Cork City’s St. Patrick Street. After a good half an hour of searching, a book with a nice illustration on its cover captured my attention. The name of that book was “The Truce” and the author was the late Uruguayan author, poet and journalist Mario Benedetti whom I have to shamefully admit that I’d never heard of until now.
Simple Story Told in the Most Pleasant Way
“The Truce” or “La Tregua” has a simple story-line, nothing fancy, and nothing that has not been touched by any author before – middle aged man falls for his much younger colleague. But I guess it is true when they say a good comedian can use a 50-year-old joke and tell it in such way that everyone would fall off their chairs laughing. This applies to Mr. Benedetti and his great story telling technique.
This book depicts the story of Martín Santomé, a 49-year-old who is one year away from retirement. He falls in love with a young employee named Laura Avellaneda; in his last year at the office. The story has been written in form of a journal, that is, we are the readers of Martin’s diary. Santomé has three children, two sons and a daughter. His wife Isabel had died when he was only 28 and he did not get married after that. As he puts it: “When she died, laughter vacated my mouth. For a year I felt overwhelmed by three things: pain, work and the children. Later, my poise, self-confidence and composure returned. But laughter didn’t.”
From the day Laura Avellaneda enters Santomé’s office she dominates the whole diary, her shadow is there even when Santomé talks to his friends or is having dinner with his children. However, his attraction to her is not based on her looks as he describes her as not very pretty. One thing that amazed me throughout the story was the fact that even after Laura and Santomé start to live together, he keeps addressing her by her last name [Avellaneda]. Never once the character slips to call her Laura at some fantastical moment, she will remain Avellaneda until the tragic ending of the book. Perhaps Santomé is afraid to push his luck and lose her if he would address her by her first name or maybe the author wanted to keep Avellaneda a vague character and was scared that calling her Laura would undermine that vagueness in the eyes of the readers.
Santomé struggles throughout the story, between living a solitary life and becoming invigorated and young again through his newly-found love. In the end as he gets his children’s blessing, overcomes his hesitations and decides to propose marriage, destiny does him wrong by taking away Avellaneda. He describes this brief period of happiness in his solitary life as a “truce” between him and a God he does not even believe in ( Avellaneda tells him God is something holistic like the ocean, the sand, even a shoe, but Santomé wants a God that is capable of talking to him).
I think a wide range of readers might sympathize with Santomé, one does not necessarily have to be a 49-year-old solitary man to feel connected to the character. Everyone who feels a bit lost in life and always struggles to allow him/herself to be happy understands where Santomé is coming from when he writes “But everything was always too overly demanding to allow me to feel happy.”
Throughout the 174 pages of this novel we rarely read about Isabel [Santomé’s first wife]. This lack of presence makes the reader to view her in a negative light. However, when Santomé accidentally opens a cabinet and an old letter from Isabel falls off on the floor, the content of the letter makes us see his late wife as a young childish bride who loves her husband and wishes to build a relationship with him beyond the sordid details of their love making. As she writes to him:” I think you’re still a terrific young man, even when you come home tired from the office with a bit of resentment in your eyes and treat me indifferently, sometimes with hatred. But at night we have a good time don’t we?” This letter shows us that it was not Isabel who was not a good woman but it was indeed Santomé who was probably too young to appreciate his wife.
A few Words about Benedetti and his Simple Beautiful Book
According to what I’ve found on the internet Benedetti was one of the members of Uruguay’s Generation of 1945 which is an intellectual and literary movement composed of artists and writers such as Juan Carlos Onetti and Amanda Berenguer. He wrote “The Truce” in the late 50’s. It was later adapted to a movie of the same name by an Argentinean director and was the first Argentinean movie to be nominated for an Academy Award (Best Foreign Film).
“The Truce “is only one of the 95 works of journalism, poetry and literature that Benedetti wrote during his lifetime, sadly only a few of this amount of work has been translated to English.
A Definite Recommendation
I have to take this time to applaud Harry Morales’s fantastic translation of this book. I understand how delicate the work of a translator can be. You have to be precise but not boring, have to convey the drama but can’t be more dramatic than the author. I think Harry Morales had done just that. I thank him for translating this book and bringing it to the attention of English language readers.
So if you are on a break or think you should start on your readings in the New Year it would be a good idea to visit your bookstore and get this simple well-written book.