DANIEL MOYANO is one of the lesser known of the best of Latin American writers. The endorsement for his entry into the group of the greats could not have been better - in 1967 his novel El Oscuro won the literary prize instituted by Primera Plana magazine, which under Jacobo Timerman had revolutionised journalism in Latin America. The award judges were Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
His first book, a collection of short stories, Artista de variedades ('Variety Artists') had been published in 1960 when he was 30. His second collection had appeared in 1964, with an introduction by the Paraguayan writer Augusto Roa Bastos, who found in the stories elements of the writings of Franz Kafka and Cesare Pavese.
His work in English is limited to the novel The Devil's Trill (1974), carefully translated by Giovanni Pontiero and published in 1988, and more recently a short story, included in Norman di Giovanni's anthology Hand-in-Hand Alongside the Tracks. The Devil's Trill is a witty but compassionate defence of fantasy and artistic licence as political turmoil seized Argentina and Moyano's life.
He was an immensely warm and humorous man. Born in Buenos Aires, his documents said he was born in Cordoba, central Argentina. His mother had refused to register his birth and, when he was 17, in need of a birth certificate, a sympathetic judge had roped in two witnesses off the street and redelivered Moyano in Cordoba. His grandparents were Italians, and one was a Brazilian Indian, which, he said, gave him his dark and wiry looks. His mother died in 1937 when he was nine, and his father walked out on the family. His adolescent years were a constant move from one aunt's house to another.
Moyano's early teachers were English and Welsh pastors working in the Cordoba hills, and his schoolmates included Ernesto 'Che' Guevara and Manuel de Falla. Julio Cortazar had urged him to write down this early life. Moyano said that was too much like writing his memoirs. But many of his best passages include reminiscences and fantasy of that troubled childhood.
He trained as a builder and plumber - a job he was to take up when forced into exile.
From Cordoba, Moyano moved to the Andean province of La Rioja, which became his home, and where he worked on the local newspaper, El Independiente, founded by the Paoletti family.
When he met his wife, Irma, they eloped because her father, of Montenegrin immigrant stock, said a suitor had to own cattle or land or was not suitable. Years later when their first child, Ricardo (today an accomplished guitarist), was born, there was reconciliation with the in-laws. Irma's father, inspecting some brick flooring laid by Moyano, informed all about that Daniel was 'not just a writer, but a good writer. You can tell by the brick-laying.'
The Cordoba priests had also taught Moyano music and he was an accomplished violist, playing in a quartet in La Rioja and teaching at the provincial conservatory.
We met in La Rioja when I was a reporter on the Buenos Aires Herald, and starting as the Buenos Aires correspondent of El Independiente - the friendship of both families has lasted ever since. We fled Argentina within weeks of each other, during the early months of the reign of the military criminals, which began in 1976. Moyano had just suffered brief imprisonmant, an experience he only told in full for the collection of interviews in my book After the Despots (1991). He put his family and all they could take, including a washing machine full of powdered soap - fearing it might not be available in Spain - on a ship bound for Genoa. That journey into exile is recreated with humour in Libro de navios y borrascas ('Book of Ships and Storms'), published in Madrid in 1984.
That was his first book since leaving Argentina; for seven years he had been unable to write. In exile he went back into teaching, in Spain and France.
Most of Daniel Moyano's dozen books combine his love of music and his feeling for the empty, impoverished land that is La Rioja, and which for him was Latin America. When the news came that a cancer in one kidney had spread to his liver it was shattering. Even at 62 he seemed and looked too young to die. Hopefully, his laughter and his wit will live on in his wonderful books.
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