Uruguayan novelist Juan Carlos Onetti (July 1, 1909, Montevideo – May 30, 1994) spent the early part of his life as a local journalist, short story writer and cinema critic, but was to become one of Latin America’s most distinguished writers, earning the Uruguay National Literature Prize in 1962, and being awarded the most prestigious literary prize in the Spanish-speaking world, the Premio Cervantes, in 1980.

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He achieved international recognition following the publication in 1950 of La vida breve (“A Brief Life”) which was hailed as one of the most original novels of the 1950s.

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Onetti was imprisoned by the Military Junta in 1974 for his part in the publication of Nelson Marra’s short story El guardaespaldas (“The Bodyguard”). Marra’s short story – the interior monologue of a top-rank military officer who recounts his murders and atrocious behaviour, much as it was happening with the functioning regime – was the winner of an annual literary contest sponsored by the weekly Uruguayan newspaper, Marcha. Onetti was on the panel of judges.

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Recognise his portable typewriter?

After being imprisoned for 6 months in Colonia Etchepare, a mental institution, Onetti left his native country (and his much-loved city of Montevideo) and fled to Spain, where he continued his career as a writer. He remained in Madrid until his death in 1994.

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Uruguayan director Alvaro Brechner adapted Onetti’s short story Jacob y el Otro (the story of a wrestler who takes on any opponent for a cash prize) for his 2009 film Mal día para pescar (“Bad day to go fishing”). The film premiered at 2009 Cannes Film Festival, and was the Uruguayan candidate for Oscar Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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English translations of Onetti’s books are either hard to find or expensive to buy. On the plus side, it’s not that hard to find a good typewriter image.

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Typewriter + Juan Carlos Onetti = Quite a spectacle!

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