American Culture

Writers of slender acquaintance: Jorge Ferretis

“He would never wish to see his son as he himself had been once, living discontentedly amidst men at the beck and call of masters.” – Jorge Ferretis

Jorge Ferretis (image courtesy Enciclopedia de la Literatura en Mexico)

I’ve finally made my way through the lengthy collection of stories A World of Great Stories, I’ve found a number of the selections rather creaky (likely a fault of older translations) or by authors who are obscure outside their own countries. (I see this as a positive since it introduces American readers to talented authors they might not otherwise encounter.) There is a sincere effort by the various region editors to include representative work from most of the world – the U.S., British Isles, eastern and western Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. Africa is not represented, an omission one feels more keenly now than might have been felt when the collection first appeared in 1948. Still, it is a collection that has reminded me about – or introduced me to – writers such as Sherwood Anderson, Rudyard KiplingRhian Roberts, Lauro de Bosis, Karel Capek, and Ryunosuke Akutagawa, writers who represent all the previously mentioned geographic regions except Latin America.

This essay on Jorge Ferretis, A Mexican author you may, like me, not be familiar with, completes the full tour of all the geographic regions covered by the story collection I’ve been blathering on about. He’s a good choice because he allows us to talk about Latin American literary history a bit.

Many if not most serious readers are familiar with the major trend in Latin American literature of the last 40-50 years (although the term was first used in the 1940’s), magical realism. Writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, and Isabel Allende are well known internationally and magical realism as a literary movement has influenced important writers such as Salmon Rushdie and Jose Saramago.

Prior to the rise of magical realism, however, Latin American literature had a strong political, particularly socialist, bent. Ferretis belongs to this movement. His work has a satiric edge mixed with a deep affection for the poor. His story “The Failure” is the examination of a poor man who is over the course of his life a locomotive engineer, a petty government official, a farmer, and finally a husband and father. The story is rich in irony of a pointed sort: the main character, Don Ponciano, is an engineer, but someone wrecks his train. He becomes a government official, but when he shows himself to be unable to engage in flattery and deception to advance his career at the expense of others’ good names or take bribes to ignore wrongdoing, he loses his post. It is only when he retires to his rural village and marries and has a son that he finds a measure of happiness that removes the epithet that has haunted him throughout the story – failure:

And [Don] Ponciano Cruz bent his head in the shadow and smiled in the silence, more jubilant than ever before in his whole life.

Living simply, finding love, contributing to the future – pretty powerful ideas for any writer to promote. Ferretis presents these ideas in a way that both amuses and enlightens. He’s a writer worth seeking out.

You may find one of his stories here.

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