Obituary: Fabin Dobles

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The Independent Online
Fabin Dobles was one of Costa Rica's leading writers - the most prolific and the most celebrated.

His works include short stories, novels, plays, poetry, essays and articles. It is in his stories and novels that he made his major contribution, focusing on social and political problems, observing the changes from traditional values to modern thinking, and expressing an intimate knowledge and love of Costa Rica, its people and language.

Most people in England know little about Costa Rica. It rarely hits the international headlines. Dobles regarded himself as "a big fish in a small pond", but did see some of his stories published in anthologies abroad alongside those of other Latin American writers such as Mrquez, Borges, Faulkner, Quiroga and Asturias. However his novels were not published in translation until his last, Years like Brief Days, was published in English in 1996.

Fabin was born in 1918 in the small country town of San Antonio de Belen, the seventh child of the local doctor. Some of the details of his childhood and youth are related in his final novel, a pseudo- autobiography, telling how he was forced to become a seminarist by his father as a thank-offering for the family's immunity from typhoid.

This experience gave him an early realisation that his father's traditional values were not his - a theme he was later to elaborate in other works. He left the Church and went to university in San Jose to study Law, where he made a name for himself as a poet and storyteller. In 1943 his first novel, Aquas Turbias ("Troubled Waters"), written in the vernacular, represented Costa Rica in the Latin American Competition for Novelists. This and other early works established him as an accomplished writer dealing with matters of social significance in a local setting. In 1950 came his best-known novel to date, El Sitio de las Abras ("The Siege of the Cleared Land"), which has so far been through 10 editions. It tackles the problem of change in country areas caused by deforestation and exploitation of the land and the campesinos by ruthless land-owners.

A left-wing intellectual, Dobles had to struggle to survive as a writer during a period of considerable social and political change. He fell foul of the authorities through his social realism and political alignment. (His dramatic 1967 novel En el San Juan hay Tiburn, "In the San Juan River are Sharks", for example, depicts the bravery of Costa Rican guerrilla fighters who joined forces with Nicaraguan rebels against the Sandinista regime.) So he was obliged to support his growing family by doing a variety of other jobs including work in industry, commerce and agriculture.

This wide experience deepened his understanding and appreciation of popular traditions and language, and led in 1956 to Historias de Tata Mundo ("The Stories of Tata Mundo"), for which he is most celebrated nationally. The richness of local colour, lively dialogue and perceptive portrayal of character bear witness to his sense of humour, love of language and above all, love of his country and people.

He was to receive many prestigious awards during his life, both national and international, but confessed that what he prized most of all was the affection and respect of his fellow countrymen who saw in his work a national pride together with a faithful account of their way of life, their language and their aspirations. But although his work is centred on Costa Rica it is universal in its sentiments.

His Obras Completas in five volumes were published in 1993 by the University of Costa Rica and the National University Press jointly, and are now in their second edition. A few months before his death, which was hastened by a struggle against emphysema, he was honoured publicly by what turned out to be a final official tribute by the State following the publication in English of his last novel - Los Anos Pequenos Dias (1989) under the title Years like Brief Days - by Peter Owen in association with Unesco. His surprise and joy were unbounded.

Joan Henry

Fabin Dobles, writer: born San Antonio de Belen, Costa Rica 17 January 1918; married Cecilia Trejos (five daughters); died 22 March 1997.

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