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A Treat for Mutis Fans: The Diary of Lecumberri

By posted at 5:22 pm on July 14, 2008 1

In my recent review of Alvaro Mutis’ The Mansion, I noted the paucity of Mutis’ writing available in English. Basically, there is Maqroll and not much else. From what I understand, much of what would remain of Mutis’ writing to be published in an English-language edition would be his poetry, much of it featuring “Maqroll the Gaviero.”

But there is also Mutis’ account of his time in Lecumberri, a Mexico City prison, after being accused of fraud by his employer Standard Oil in Columbia. Mutis would write, “I never would have managed to write a single line about Maqroll el Gaviero, who has accompanied me here and there in my poetry, had I not lived those fifteen months in the place they call, with singular precision, ‘the Black Palace.’”

Mutis’ account, The Diary of Lecumberri, was published in 1959 by the Universidad Veracruzana and reprinted by Alfaguara in 1997.

In 1999, a journal called Hopscotch translated and published a substantial excerpt of The Diary of Lecumberri, which is available as a PDF. Also included are a petition to the President for Mutis’ release penned by Octavio Paz and several letters that Mutis wrote to the journalist Elena Poniatowska from prison.

When things go bad in jail, when someone or something manages to break the closed procession of days and shuffles and tumbles them in a disorder coming from outside, when this happens, there are certain infallible symptoms, certain preliminary signs that announce the imminence of bad days. In the morning, at the first roll, a thick taste of rag dries the mouth and keeps us from saying hello to our cellmates. Everyone sits himself as well as he can, waiting for the sergeant to come and sign the report. Then comes the food. The cooks don’t yell their usual “Anyone who takes bread!” to announce their arrival, or their “Anyone who wants atole,” with which they break the mild spell left over from the dreams of those staggering around, never able to quite convince themselves that they are prisoners, that they are in jail. The meal arrives in silence and everyone approaches with his plate and his bowl to receive his allotted ration, and nobody protests, or asks for more, or says a word.





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One Response to “A Treat for Mutis Fans: The Diary of Lecumberri”

  1. James
    at 7:04 am on July 15, 2008

    You just made my day – but you would have made my year if you said another Maqroll novella was coming out. Mutis is my favorite writer; a supreme crafter of intellectual adventures. I have a book of his poems in Spanish, and though I'm a novice in the language, I still have fun performing my own amateur translations.

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