Obituary: Jacobo Timerman

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OVER LUNCH last Tuesday, at the table where a group of Buenos Aires journalists have met regularly for over 30 years, Jacobo Timerman was witty and wicked. In other words, his usual self, writes Andrew Graham- Yooll [further to the obituary by Colin Harding, 13 November]. He rolled off a stream of recollections of the men who ran Argentina in the 1960s and 1970s.

Looking back on that lunch the feeling now is that he was saying goodbye. He had survived a huge heart attack earlier this year and moved out of the Punta del Este resort where he had lived for the last dozen years, in Uruguay, and taken a flat in Buenos Aires, to be closer to his son Hector and to medical facilities. Referring to the recent death of the Spanish poet Rafael Alberti, Timerman said, "I am also dead." We laughed.

Timerman was Argentina's best journalist, who trained Argentina's best journalists. Through the weekly magazines he ran, and with La Opinin, he secured a place in Argentine history. Novelists of the international stature of Toms Eloy Martnez (Santa Evita), and a long list of leading writers in Latin America, all worked under him.

Timerman knew everybody in politics and, after spending two and a half years in prison as from April 1977, the book of which won him international renown, he got to know everybody else, as he tried to make his home in exile in Israel, New York and, finally, Uruguay. And he regaled friends and foe with this unlimited knowledge. Most recently, and including last Tuesday, he insisted on displaying expert knowledge of the brothels in Maldonado, near his home in Punta del Este.

His impoverished parents brought him to Argentina from Ukraine on 11 October 1928. He liked to remind me that he had landed at the Buenos Aires docks one day before my father, who had arrived from Edinburgh.

From that miserable beginning he knew fame and fortune, ostracism and prejudice. The lasting hurt was the anti-Semitism - which led to his torture and torment - shown by the military dictatorship, the memory of which prompted him to remark last Tuesday, "Que pas de mierda" ("What a shit country"), and then he laughed, enjoying his own mischief. That old face, creased with laughter, will remain my favourite memory of him.