Obituary: Elena Garro

THE DEATH of the great Mexican poet Octavio Paz on 19 April this year was for his admirers a particularly bitter passing. While he was still awaiting the final rites, his former wife Elena Garro, a considerable writer and social activist in her own right, demanded her share of the inheritance with the same volubility and acrimony that had disfigured their divorce proceedings more than 30 years earlier. She even went so far as to qualify the poet's second wife, Maria Jose Trianin, as a mere "concubina".

Garro was divorced from Paz in 1967 and had lived ever since in what she claimed were straitened circumstances. But it appears that Paz had always supported her and their only daughter financially and had also helped Garro's career as a writer.

Born in 1920, Garro was a student in the literary department of the University of Mexico when she encountered Paz. She was married to him in 1937, the beginning of a marriage of three decades of troubled personal relationships and stormy political activities. She was a choreographer and a journalist, before starting to write highly emotional and successful novels.

She also wrote for the theatre and the screen. Her best-known novel, Los Recuerdos del Porvenir ("Memoirs of the Future"), which in 1963 won the Xavier Villaurrutia Prize, was five years later made into a film by the great Mexican director Arturo Ripstein.

Garro came to be considered one of the leading contemporary Mexican authors. Another of her best works is a tribute to a land that gave her refuge when because of her political activities she was forced to go into exile: Memoria de Espana 1937 (1993).

She, like Paz, had always fought for the rights of the downtrodden campesinos, bringing them education, health facilities and respect for their way of life. But Garro was accused in 1968 of instigating the tragic student revolt of Tlatelolco, in which hundreds of rebellious students were assassinated by the armed forces. She rejected the accusation and gained the name of apestada ("accused") in intellectual political circles.

Her countries of exile were Spain, France, Germany and Japan, where her books were translated and her revolutionary theories greatly admired by the student intelligentsia of the Sixties. She continued to be in touch with Paz, though the portrait she gives of the poet's conduct during the Spanish Civil War in Memoria de Espana 1937 is far from flattering. Other well-known works in which he appears are Reencuentro de Personajes ("Personal Encounters", 1982) and Testimonios sobre Mariana ("Testimonies on Mariana"), which won the Grijalbo Prize, 1981.

The writer and her daughter Helena returned to Mexico in 1994. They lived in a modest apartment in Cuernavaca with 10 cats. Garro was suffering from severe breathing difficulties, but continued to dispute the Paz inheritance, declaring: "My great love for him never died, and never will die. Now he is with God, and we shall all one day be going to meet him again."

Elena Garro, writer: born Puebla, Mexico 12 December 1920; married 1937 Octavio Paz (died 1998; one daughter; marriage dissolved 1967); died Cuernavaca, Mexico 22 August 1998.

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