Alejo Carpentier

Alejo Carpentier

Cuban writer. His vast works include novels, short stories and journalism. He also worked as a musicologist and an art critic. Carpentier, as he came to call himself, was a man of his times. His work covered the full breadth of the reality of the Americas, without forgetting his Caribbean roots. He was the father of magical realism, a term he coined in the prologue of his novel El reino de este mundo and that marked a new era in the Latin American novel in the second half of the 20th century.

Carpentier was born on December 26, 1904, on Maloja Street in Havana, Cuba. His father, Jorge Julián Carpentier, was a French architect. His mother, Lina Valmont, of Russian origin, was a professor of languages. The ethnic mixture was evident from Carpentier’s early childhood on. As a child, he entered the Secondary Education Institute of Havana in 1917, where he studied music theory. In 1921, he began studying architecture at the University of Havana but later abandoned his studies.

In 1927, he signed the Minority Manifesto and in July of that year he was imprisoned for seven months and accused of being a communist. A year later, he fled to France using the passport of French poet Robert Desnos. In Paris, he worked as a radio journalist, wrote scripts for ballets and, above all, studied the Americas. His first novel, ¡écue-Yamba-O!, was published in 1933 during a brief trip he made to Madrid. By that time, Carpentier was already an extremely cultured man, aware of the history, identity and pluralism of his continent.

His first novel was followed by a book of short stories called El viaje a la semilla. The influences he was exposed to in France, where he rubbed elbows with various writers in the surrealist camp, permeated Carpentier’s work and produced an admirable narrative maturity that was displayed in its highest form in the novel El reino de este mundo, published in 1949. This novel, based on the Haitian Revolution, combines various dimensions and aspects of imagination along with reality to give that reality a miraculous quality, all within ordinary daily life in the Americas.

While in self-exile in Venezuela for 14 years, beginning in 1945, Carpentier wrote three novels that are fundamental to his work: Los pasos perdidos, El acoso and El siglo de las luces. The Venezuelan geography gave him a broader vision of the continent that he continuously tried to put into words and describe. His baroque style and his endless transcultural awareness are even more notable in these novels.

Carpentier won various prizes, including the Miguel de Cervantes Prize presented to him by King Juan Carlos I in 1977. The writer donated the material awards from the prize to the Cuban Communist Party. He was also awarded the Médicis Prize for a foreign writer, the highest a recognition granted by France to a foreign writer, for El arpa y la sombra. Carpentier died in Paris on April 24, 1980.

Works

Narratives

  • ¡écue-Yamba-O! (1933), novel
  • Viaje a la semilla (1944), short stories
  • El reino de este mundo (1949), novel
  • Los pasos perdidos (1953), novel
  • Guerra del tiempo (1956), short stories
  • El acoso (1958), short novel
  • El siglo de las Luces (1962), novel
  • El camino de Santiago (1967), short stories
  • Los convidados de Plata (1972), short novel
  • Concierto barroco (1974), short novel
  • El recurso del método (1974), novel
  • La consagración de la primavera (1978), novel
  • El arpa y la sombra (1979), novel

Essays

  • La música en Cuba (1946)
  • Tristán e Isolda en tierra firme (1949)
  • Tientos y diferencias (1964)
  • Literatura y conciencia en América Latina (1969)
  • La ciudad de las columnas (1970)
  • América Latina en su música (1975)
  • Letra y solfa (1975)
  • Razón de ser (1976)
  • Afirmación literaria americanista (1979)
  • Bajo el signo de Cibeles. Crónicas sobre España y los españoles (1979)
  • El adjetivo y sus arrugas (1980)
  • El músico que llevo dentro (1980)
  • La novela latinoamericana en vísperas de un nuevo siglo y otros ensayos (1981)
  • Conferencias (1987)

Author: Christian Ibarra
Published: April 13, 2012.

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