Obituary: Nissa Torrents

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The Independent Online
WHEN Nissa Torrents left any company her interlocutors usually remained primed for hours after with ideas, topics for debate and a string of anecdotes about the most varied characters and personalities. That same sense of generated energy was provoked again on Monday but mixed with shock when her death was announced.

A lecturer in Latin American literature and film at University College London, since 1970, and before that at King's College, London, Essex University, and Queen Mary College, London, Nissa Torrents was known widely far beyond the academic community, in literary, art and film circles, in Britain, Spain and throughout Latin America.

She arrived in London from Barcelona in 1956, aged 19, and four years later married the artist Peter Donnelly. London was their base for their 32 years of marriage, with regular escapes to a summer home near Barcelona.

Between academic life and Barcelona, there were dozens, perhaps hundreds of field research projects that over the years gathered the most remarkable network of friends, contacts and, of course, former students. It was her connections with the latter on which she thrived. In any Latin American capital, her name was a passage to new introductions and fresh links. Her old students at University College adored her. She radiated charm and warmth, and encouragement for all she came in contact with. My own acquaintance with her began after my arrival in London, 15 years ago, and she was captivating from the very moment of introduction.

Although she enjoyed the stories and gossip about friends and colleagues, she was not a namedropper, and this was part of the mystery of Nissa Torrents. She was a friend of most of the Latin American greats, from the late Jorge Luis Borges to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and was welcome at their homes. The seminars she organised at the Institute of Latin American Studies, in Tavistock Square, were always well attended, in the knowledge that there would be rich reward from listening to her many famous guests. The charm and the mystery were everywhere about this small, slight woman who pedalled her way all over London. The Spanish writer Julian Rios remarked, before knowing her, that a picture of her tense, expectant and witty character had been one of the most successful psychological studies by the US-born artist RB Kitaj, in an 8ft portrait for which she sat in 1977-78, entitled The Hispanist.

While Hispanic studies and Latin American literature were her great interests, they were surpassed by film and, in many ways, politics. In addition to dozens of articles and essays, she collaborated in three books - a study of the fragility of Spanish democracy, published in 1984, another on the Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti (1986), both edited with her colleague Christopher Abel, and a collection of essays on Argentine cinema, The Garden of Forking Paths (1986), produced with John King, of Warwick University.

In recent years she had been a regular contributor of articles on her other passion, art, in La Vanguardia, of Barcelona, and the Buenos Aires Herald. At the time of her death, she had almost completed a book on Latin American film, to be published by Paidas, in Barcelona and Buenos Aires. She was involved with two other projects, a study of Chicano cinema, and another on the impact of dictatorships on cinema in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Uruguay.

She had been in Cuba, a country she had close ties with, for a holiday with Peter and to complete a chapter of her book, when she fell ill and began to lose weight rapidly. And the end, from cancer, was rapid, too soon to say goodbye to all that community of friends who loved her, enjoyed her sparkle, and will miss her horribly.

Nissa Torrents, lecturer and writer, born Barcelona 19 September 1937, married 1960 Peter Donnelly, died London 19 October 1992.

(Photograph omitted)