Mario Bencastro

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(29 pages)

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Three of life: Stories of Civil War

"Written between 1979 and 1994, the stories in this volume derive from Mario Bencastro's reaction to the civil war which swept El Salvador in recent memory. Social commitment plays a role in the work, but as Bencastro notes in the Epilogue to his book, the war became--in time--the inescapable environment for everyone living in the country, and for artists, in particular, this fact posed a unique problem. 'Human misery,' Bencastro writes, 'poses a challenge to the writer: to seek a way to reflect reality, however harsh it may be, and, at the same time, create a work of art capable of captivating the reader'(107). Bencastro's solution to this problem manisfests itself in his skillful blend of fantasy with reality, the combination to which literary criticism has given the name magic realism. The objective here is to study human problems and keep alive in the mind values which humanity holds sacred. 'Art,' according to the author, 'can aspire only to reflect social problems, because resolving them is a political task, not an artistic one'(107).
***** "The Tree of Life: Stories of Civil War contains twelve of Bencastro's fictions, and the work is uniformly strong. Some of the pieces like The Deaths of Fortín Coronado, The Tree of Life, and Laura's Afflictions fit under the heading of short, short fiction while others like Photographer of Death and Clown's Story go so extensively into their subject that Bencastro later adapted their hard hitting cores for the stage. The Faces of Xipotec, a story which studies the relationship between physical suffering and artistic achievement, is particularly strong with regards to the tortures inflicted on the citizens of El Salvador and, therefore, memorable for the effects Bencastro achieves through its pages. Two of the pieces, The River Godess and The Garden of Gucumatz, rely heavely on Indian myth and native legend, but in presenting them, Bencastro is abundantly clear, supplying the universal reader with all the requisite details for a perfect understanding of his material. 'Once Upon a River,' the final fiction in the book, is also the longest and most powerful. Based upon the massacre of more than 350 men, women, and children along the banks of the Sumpul River (May 14, 1980), Once Upon a River constitutes a short novella which shows the absolute savagery of the civil war while, at the same time, showcasing Bencastro's considerable talents for drawing character through the medium of a minor literary masterwork. Susan Giersbach Rascon's fine translation, make this first English edition of the book a memorable event." --Phillip Parotti, Sam Houston State University.

Three of life: Stories of Civil War

Arte Público Press, May 1997. Translated by Susan Giersbach Rascón. Softcover. ISBN 1-55885-186-0. Copyright © 1990 Mario Bencastro.