Jorge Edwards, witness to the boom

The Chilean writer Jorge Edwards, who died yesterday at his home in Madrid at the age of 91, could be seen some afternoons on the terrace of the Círculo de Bellas Artes de Madrid, next to J.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
18 March 2023 Saturday 06:54
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Jorge Edwards, witness to the boom

The Chilean writer Jorge Edwards, who died yesterday at his home in Madrid at the age of 91, could be seen some afternoons on the terrace of the Círculo de Bellas Artes de Madrid, next to J.J. Armas Marcelo and other elements of the group that orbits around Mario Vargas Llosa and his chair. Living history of the Latin American boom - to which he coquettishly assured that he did not belong - Edwards was a diplomat and above all the author of an extensive work that includes a dozen long novels, several volumes of short stories, journalistic texts and essays that earned him the Cervantes prize in 1999.

Bon vivant, cheerful and gifted for telling anecdotes, this newspaper witnessed, for example, one morning in 2012, his talents for singing boleros, which he exercised spontaneously alongside the legendary Lucho Gatica in lobby of the Hilton hotel in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Born in Santiago de Chile in 1931, he studied at the San Ignacio school, where he was sexually abused by a priest - as he revealed in 2012 -. Graduated in Law from the University of Chile, he began his literary career in the fifties, publishing short stories and essays. His first novel, El patio, was published in 1960, followed by many others such as El peso de la noche. His friends highlight the quality of works such as El inútil de la familia (2004) or La casa de Dostoievsky (2008), about his friend Enrique Lihn, but his non-fiction texts are the best known, especially Persona non grata (1973), a first-person chronicle of the disappointment he suffered under the Castro regime. He had published two volumes of his memoirs, Los círculos morados (2012) and Esclavos de la consigna (2018), and was currently working on the third. He also wrote Adiós, poeta (1990), a biography of Pablo Neruda for which he won the Comillas prize. His works make it possible to trace the history of Latin American literature in the 20th century in broad strokes, whose main protagonists he dealt with personally.

As a politician, he was the delegate of the government of Salvador Allende in Cuba for three months, from the end of 1970 to the beginning of 1971, after which he ended up being expelled from the country and enmity with Fidel Castro in person, with whom until and all had played golf. The then Chilean ambassador to France, Pablo Neruda, immediately hired him as his second in command: "Although he belonged to the most oligarchic and reactionary family in my country, he was a man of the left, with no party affiliation. What I needed above all was an intelligent official who knew his trade and was worthy of my trust”. Neruda did not pay the slightest attention even to a letter from Allende asking him to cancel the appointment. There, in the Parisian embassy, ​​Neruda recounts in his memoirs, “little by little Edwards calmed his frayed nerves, stopped biting his nails and worked with me with obvious ability, intelligence and loyalty ". He held this position until General Pinochet's coup in 1973 forced him to leave the diplomatic corps. In fact, the coup caught him in his rented house in Calafell, and followed him "to Carlos Barral's precarious television, one of the few who had one there". In any case, thanks to Pinochet, Edwards settled in Barcelona, ​​specifically at number 19 of Passage Forasté.

Persona non grata tells how, on his short but intense diplomatic mission on the island, he was put up in the luxurious Haba na Riviera hotel, full of spies, from the chauffeur to a girl who goes to bed with him - when he explained it to Carlos Fuentes, the Mexican reprimanded him: "In my time, things weren't like that yet. What a shame! To have missed this, nano!”–, as well as poverty and lack of supplies. It is the first book that marked an intellectual distance from the Cuban revolution in the environment of writers of the boom. Edwards told people, already in the early seventies, that Cuba was starving and that this was not the fault of the blockade, but of the productive system, and that, in addition, the regime repressed intellectuals and freedom of expression.

Having just left Cuba, he spent a few days in Barcelona, ​​where he stayed at the home of his friend Vargas Llosa. Paranoid because of the flogging he suffered, the Chilean looked for hidden microphones in the home of the Peruvian, in Sarrià, and in that of his compatriot José Donoso in Vallvidrera.

Jorge Edwards' genuine Barcelona adventure didn't begin until August 1973, when he arrived from Paris accompanied by his wife, Pilar Fernández de Castro (died in 2007), and his daughter Ximena, who took care of him in his final moments.

Persona non grata appeared in 1973 in Barral Editores, and made Edwards someone frowned upon in left-wing literary circles. Despite this, one of his important friendships was the poet Jaime Gil de Biedma, whose house he frequented.

During his time in Barcelona, ​​Edwards subsisted on his copyright and various publishing jobs, among which the directorship of Difusora Internacional or the translation of Khrushchev's memoirs stand out. He also wrote articles in La Vanguardia and was part of the Seix Barral editorial committee, together with Pere Gimferrer and others. At six o'clock in the afternoon, he often stopped by Osi, 50, to pick up Vargas Llosa in the Citroen he kept from his diplomatic period and teach him the rudiments of tennis.

Edwards was also a direct witness of the night in Barcelona in which García Márquez and Patricia Llosa, wife of Mario Vargas Llosa, had the dialogue and gestures that motivated the Peruvian to later slap the Colombian in public and end the relationship between the two future Nobel Prize winners.

As an entrepreneur, Edwards was the owner of the distributor Fernández de Castro (surname of his wife), which brought books from publishers such as Anagrama, Tusquets, Siruela or Lumen to Chile, among others.

In 2010, he was appointed ambassador to Paris by President Sebastián Piñera, whom he had given electoral support. That same year he obtained Spanish nationality.

He defined himself "as what in Chile we call a 'regalón'". In this sense, once, after a gala dinner, Mario Vargas Llosa approached the literary agent Carmen Balcells and commented in his ear, looking askance at Edwards' companion: "A I don't envy Jorge the way he writes, but I do envy the ease he has for women." It has rained a lot since then...

The family has announced that a religious service will be held in Madrid tomorrow. His ashes will be repatriated to Chile.