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  HOME | Bolivia

Bolivian Woman Recounts Friendship with Cortazar

By Lorena Arroyo

LA PAZ -- A score of letters sent by Argentine writer Julio Cortazar to Rosario Santos, a Bolivian friend, shows the personal side of one of the great geniuses of Latin American literature.

Cortazar, who was born in Brussels in 1914, died 25 years ago in Paris and is best known for his novel "Rayuela" (Hopscotch), communicates in the missives his personal concerns, recommends books, gives personal advice and reflects on political matters.

The recipient of the letters, whom Cortazar affectionately refers to as the "Bolivianita," is Rosario Santos, a woman now nearly 80 - though she looks younger and maintains a youthful spirit - who has devoted much of her life to promoting Latin American literature in the United States.

Between 1974 and the writer's death, on Feb. 12, 1984, Santos received a score of letters that her friend and adviser sent from places such as Paris, Nairobi and Mallorca.

"He was a truly simple and humane person, eager to listen and very profound in his opinions and everything that happened around him," Santos told Efe at her home in the tranquil La Paz neighborhood of Sopocachi.

She was 44 when she met Cortazar in May 1974. At that time, she was working at the Center for Inter-American Relations in New York, an institution whose goal was to give Latin American writers of the so-called "boom" period of the 1960s and 1970s more exposure in the United States.

Cortazar arrived in New York to participate in a conference and Santos was assigned to pick him up at the airport.

"We were concerned because Julio didn't come out and we were thinking he had missed the flight ... but they had held him up in immigration to ask him some questions because he was well-known for his intense political activity," she said.

"We got along really well and that night he told me he wanted to get to know the New York jazz clubs and we were there talking. It was a very spontaneous encounter, (and) an understanding and a friendship (developed) that lasted 10 years," Rosario said.

Between that initial encounter and two months before Cortazar's death, the two saw each other on several occasions: in Frankfurt at that city's 1975 book fair; in Paris; and when the writer was on a lecture tour in the United States.

But their strong bond of friendship was mainly developed through written correspondence.

Twenty-five years after the death of this literary icon, Rosario has agreed to make public some fragments of those letters, which she keeps as a valuable treasure along with photographs of herself with Cortazar and other luminaries of Latin American literature such as Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges and Juan Rulfo.

The most pressing and even intimate concerns of the author of the short story compilation "Historias de cronopios y famas" (Stories of Ill Depute), his political preoccupations and literary reflections are just some of the topics raised in the letters.

For example, one year after their first meeting, Cortazar, in a letter from Paris, tells Santos that before going to bed he would imagine "something like a big beach of time" where he could be alone with his books and records without "immediate obligations."

"And I would once again live for a brief time, as I often lived in my youth, savoring the pure moment, without it being contaminated - as it is now - by the future and its demands. But those are dreams of a petite bourgeoisie, as my comrades in the struggle would say ..." the fragment reads.

"It's sad that we live in an era in which there's just enough time to race through vast books ... we should invent pieces of free time that could be bought at the same time as a book. The seller would hand you over the book and the time necessary to read it," Cortazar wrote in November from Nairobi.

Another constant message in the letters is Cortazar's firm political stance against military dictatorships, such as those of Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Jorge Videla in Argentina.

"The bad thing is that the Videlas and Pinochets, (among others), force me to dedicate most of my time to activities for which I obviously wasn't meant for, but must take part in," he wrote Santos in a letter sent from Mallorca and dated July 1979. EFE

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