Alvaro Mutis: Award-winning poet, essayist and novelist


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The Independent Online

The prolific writer and poet Alvaro Mutis, who has died at the age of 90, enjoyed wide popularity outside Colombia and was considered by critics, including his good friend Gabriel García Marquez, as one of the most outstanding poets and storytellers of his generation. Despite the difficulties he faced, including time in a Mexican prison, Mutis produced an extensive collection of novels and poetry that earned major international honours such as the Xavier Villaurrutia, Prince of Asturias and Cervantes prizes.

He was born in 1923 in Bogota, Mutis was the son of the diplomat, Santiago Mutis, and Carolina Jaramillo. He spent part of his early years in Brussels, where his father was Colombia's ambassador. His literary career began in 1948 with the publication of his first volume of poetry, The Balance, followed in 1953 by Elements of the Disaster.

Before winning fame as a writer, Mutis traveled to Mexico in 1956 with letters of recommendation from the Spanish film-maker Luis Bunuel and the Mexican television producer Luis de Llano Palmer, and never left. Three years after his arrival, he spent 15 months in Lecumberri prison in Mexico City, accused of embezzlement by the US multinational Standard Oil, where he worked as head of public relations.

He wrote Diary of Lecumberri (1959), about his experience in the infamous jail, which he called "a lesson I will never forget in the most intense and deep layers of pain and failure."

Mutis' work is distinguished by a rich and interesting mix of the lyrical and narrative. He began to gain popularity in 1986 with the publication of his first instalment of his most famous work, The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, a collection of seven novellas about a wayward and quixotic sailor, considered by many critics to be one of the most memorable characters in fiction of recent decades. A solitary traveller who brings a stranger's detachment to his encounters and his lovers, he searches for meaning in a time of violence and inhumanity. In this sense some critics have compared Maqroll to Oedipus

Many say Maqroll mirrored the writer, who travelled extensively in many jobs that included broadcaster, film executive – he worked for the Latin American television divisions of Twentieth Century Fox and Columbia – radio actor and newspaper columnist.

After retiring in 1988, he devoted himself to reading and writing. His novels include The Manor of Araucaima and The True Story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. He was a witty man with a great sense of humour, the Mexican poet Hugo Gutierrez Vega said in a recent interview with the cultural commission commemorating Mutis's 90th birthday.

He describes a lost world, the old Colombia of rural ownership, like the family Mutis," Gutierrez said, noting that he spent part of his childhood the family coffee and sugar cane farm in Coello. From that experience, his developed a fascination with the sea, the tropics and the smell of coffee that marked his literary works.

Alvaro Mutis Jaramillo, writer: born Bogota 25 August 1923; died Mexico City 22 September 2013.