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Literature the art of lying

55 years ago, Juan Carlos Onetti finished writing one of his best known works, Los adioses. Latin American literature figure that claim his texts were for him.

Complex, intricate and dramatic, if Juan Carlos Onetti persisted in his writing, stubborn and feverish, it was to be definitively condemned. He was condemned, as he used to say, from his happy childhood and his traumatic adolescence. Then he began to write and did it for him, for his pleasure, but for his vice as well, and above all, to be reflected in his stories, and there he was as fragile, timid, withdrawn and insecure as in his reality, although at the same time Could be Junta Larsen, one of his creations, the man who at times wanted to be, aggressive, determined, the risky truhán who cared little about society, the future and transcendences.

When Larsen first appeared in the early 1970s, Onetti had written “El pozo”, “Los adioses”, and “Para una tumba sin nombre”. He was a kind of timeless existentialist. Few had believed in “El pozo”. Over and over again, Onetti received negative roundabouts and lacerations from publishers. That was very dense, they explained. That he needed emotion, they pointed out. Friends, his coffee and bar counterparts in Montevideo who shared, wounded and criticized, paid him the edition. They took 500 copies. Everyone had to give them away. The reviews published by the newspapers and magazines rescued the intimate tone of the work, and spoke of Onetti as a young writer who had half-finished his studies in school and earned his living as a porter, watchman, ticket seller in the Theater, usher or waiter. Onetti's great accomplishments, some critics pointed out, had been to work as a censor, touring towns and villages on a donkey's back, and having taken part in the writing of a literary publication, La scissor.

In spite of his youth, Onetti had already married twice, and with two sister cousins, Maria Amalia and Maria Julia Onetti. With the first she fought since the day of the wedding, but the loss of her manuscript of El well overflowed the spirits. With the second lived until 1945, moving from Montevideo to Buenos Aires and vice versa, and working on what they accepted. From time to time he held enigmatic anarchist meetings with obscure characters who convinced him to travel to Spain to join the Republican faction of the Civil War. However, these same subjects were responsible for dissuading him, and others, like Carlos Quijano, settled him in Uruguay by offering him the editorial secretariat of the weekly Marcha. Once every seven days, Onetti wrote a literary critic, The Stone in the puddle, under diverse pseudonyms like Periquito the aguador, Groucho Marx and Pierre Regy.

After “El pozo”, he began working as a reporter at Reuters. More and more frequently he went to Buenos Aires. In 1945 he fell in love with a writing companion, Elizabeth Maria Pekelharing, and married her. That same year La Nación published La casa en la arena, where for the first time Santa María, its imaginary city, appeared a compendium of white spirits, impulses, fears and vices that delimit five years later with La vida breve. By 1955 Juan Carlos Onetti was a literary celebrity in the Rio de la Plata, beyond his isolation. He was a friend even of the president, Luis Batlle Berres, to whom time later dedicated the shipyard. He received invitations everywhere and he thought about the divine and the human, always with his monotonous tone and his indecipherable ironies.

However, life and love weighed on him. He separated for the third time and remarried, now with a much younger Argentine, Dorothea Muhr. He was director of the Municipal Library of Montevideo and journalist of the newspaper Acción, he was interviewed, interviewer, commentator and dissident even of himself, everything and nothing to flee, everything and nothing to disappear.

"Literature is lying truthfully," he said. He lied, portraying himself, and did so until the end of his days, in 1994. He did it with The Shipyard and with Los Adioses, his most commented books, and he did it a few months before he died with When he no longer matters, his will. In the end, his death was not as the newspapers announced, because Onetti, the real Onetti, had begun to die in May 1974, when the military junta that ruled Uruguay accused him and convicted him of treason, conspiracy, and other matters. Then he abandoned his past, his stories and his ghost town of Santa Maria and fortunately left a Latin America full of well told lies!