Onetti, Juan Carlos

▪ 1995

      Uruguayan-born novelist (b. July 1, 1909, Montevideo, Uruguay—d. May 30, 1994, Madrid, Spain), chronicled human struggles with alienation and hopelessness amid the decay of modern urban life. In a series of complex existential novels and short stories, many of which were set in the mythical town of Santa María, he fused fantasy and reality in a nihilistic view of city life devoid of spiritual meaning. For many years Onetti moved back and forth between Uruguay and Argentina, working as a journalist for the Reuters news agency in Montevideo (1942-43) and Buenos Aires (1943-46). He was also editor (1939-42) of the respected Montevideo weekly magazine Marcha and later (1946-55) of the Argentine magazine Vea y lea. After settling in Montevideo, he was named (1957) director of the city's municipal library system. He was imprisoned briefly in 1974 after a literary jury on which he served awarded a prize to a work deemed unacceptable by the Uruguayan military government. In 1975 he went into self-imposed exile in Spain, where he eventually became a citizen. Onetti's first short story appeared in the Argentine newspaper La prensa in 1933, while his first short novel, El pozo (The Pit), was published in Montevideo in 1939. Other novels include Tierra de nadie (1941; No Man's Land), La vida breve (1950; A Brief Life), El astillero (1961; The Shipyard), Juntacadáveres (1964; Body Snatcher), and Cuando y no importe (1993; "What's the Use"). He also wrote several volumes of short stories and essays, notably Réquiem por Faulkner (1975; "Requiem for Faulkner"). Onetti received the national literary award of Uruguay in 1963 and the Cervantes Prize, Spain's top literary honour, in 1980.

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▪ Uruguayan writer
born July 1, 1909, Montevideo, Uruguay
died May 30, 1994, Madrid, Spain

      Uruguayan novelist and short-story writer whose existential works chronicle the decay of modern urban life. The protagonists of his novels lead unhappy, isolated lives in an absurd and sordid world from which they can escape only through memories, fantasies, or death.

      Onetti studied at the university in Buenos Aires and held various jobs before he started writing. His first published work, the novella El pozo (1939; The Pit), treats the aimless life of a man lost within a city where he is unable to communicate with others. The book's complex fusion of reality with fantasy and inner experience makes it one of the first distinctively modern Spanish American novels. In the novel Tierra de nadie (1942; No Man's Land) Onetti again presents a nihilistic view of city life devoid of any spiritual meaning.

      Onetti lived in Buenos Aires from 1943 to 1955, working as a journalist. In his best-known novel, La vida breve (1950; A Brief Life), he creates the mythical city of Santa María, which is also the setting of several subsequent novels. The book's unhappy narrator fantasizes about living as another person but always encounters the same emptiness and helplessness that drove him to escape into fantasy in the first place. This book, too, was technically innovative in its interweaving of fictions upon fictions as the main character's personality progressively disintegrates.

      Onetti returned to Montevideo in 1955 and two years later was named director of the city's municipal libraries. In his next major novel, El astillero (1961; The Shipyard), an antihero named Larsen returns to Santa María to try to revive a useless and abandoned shipyard, ending his life in futility and unheroic defeat. The book has been viewed as an ironic allegory reflecting the decay and breakdown of Uruguayan society. The novel Juntacadáveres (1964; Body Snatcher) deals with Larsen's earlier career as a brothel keeper and his concomitant loss of innocence.

      Onetti's collections of short stories include Un sueño realizado y otros cuentos (1951; “A Dream Fulfilled and Other Stories”) and El infierno tan temido (1962; “The Most Feared Hell”). His Obras completas (“Complete Works”) were published in 1970, and his Cuentos completos (“Complete Stories”) appeared in 1974.

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Onetti, Juan Carlos — (1909–1994)    Uruguayan novelist, shortstory writer, and journalist. Born in Montevideo, Onetti has often been described as Uruguay’s literary master of the 20th century. In his early 20s he moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he worked… …   Historical Dictionary of the “Dirty Wars”

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