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Book review Cortazar takes the pulse of a continent

Save Twilight
by Julio Cortazar
(City Lights Books, £12.99)

THE ARGENTINIAN writer Julio Cortazar is better known for his mastery of modern fiction and he's the author of some of the most influential Latin American novels of the last century such as Hopscotch and '62: A Model Kit, along with outstanding short stories.

Less known is his poetry and Save Twilight, fastidiously translated by Stephen Kessler, is his first collection in English.

It covers most of Cortazar’s main preoccupations as a writer, from the intimate to the political. His passion for language, riddles and literature and his enduring love of Argentina and Latin America shines through.

Cortazar was a fierce defender of, and activist in, left-wing political causes from the the 1960s to the 1980s, embracing Cuba, Nicaragua, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.

In a book of brilliantly evocative poems, there's Milonga — a work about exile, diaspora and belonging that was made into the song La Cruz del Sur (Southern Cross) by fellow Argentineans Tata Cedron and Edgardo Canton:

“I miss the Southern Cross/when thirst makes me raise my head/to drink your black wine midnight./And I miss the street corners with their sleepy stores/where the air’s skin trembles with the smell of yerba./To understand  that it’s always there/like a pocket where every so often/my hand feels for change my/penknife my comb/the tireless hand some dark memory/counting its dead.”

It was written when reminiscing about his friends back in Argentina at the time of the military dictatorship and its “dirty war” on the people during which over 30,000 were murdered or disappeared and The Interrogator is a poignant reflection of that time:  

“I don’t ask after the glories or the snows/I want to know where all the dead swallows gather,/where all the empty matchboxes go./However huge the world may be/there are fingernail clippings, lint,/worn-out envelops, fallen eyelashes.”

Cortazar’s poetry is like the pulse of a continent and, as Argentinian-Chilean author Ariel Dorfman says: “It's a chance to visit his crepuscular world in all its multiple layers. A tender, experimental, humorous, meditative, jazzy, heartbreaking collection to be relished and savoured slowly.”

 

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