Newspaper article International New York Times

Juan Gelman, 83, Poet Who Challenged Argentine Junta

Newspaper article International New York Times

Juan Gelman, 83, Poet Who Challenged Argentine Junta

Article excerpt

Mr. Gelman was revered for criticizing Argentina's far-right military junta in the wake of a 1976 coup that preceded the killing of thousands of citizens, including the poet's son and daughter-in- law.

Juan Gelman, an Argentine poet who challenged the tyrannies of his country's military junta -- including those directed against his family -- in works that established him as a formidable presence in the Spanish-language literary canon, died on Jan. 14 at his home in Mexico City, where he had lived for many years. He was 83.

News reports in Mexico attributed the death to myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of bone marrow disease. However, a friend of Mr. Gelman, Ivan Trejo, said the cause was lung cancer.

Mr. Gelman, the author of more than 20 books, was revered in Spain and Latin America, especially for his work in opposition to the durable far-right strain of governance in Argentina. His subjects included oppression and injustice (his ire often expressed with philosophical and linguistic vigor rather than visceral punch); the power and impotence of language; the eternalness of art, and poetry itself.

His work was not routinely translated into English, partly because he was interested in exploiting nuances of language that were difficult to capture in other tongues. In his 60s, Mr. Gelman taught himself Ladino, a language of Sephardic Jews derived from Old Spanish and written in Hebrew letters. He then wrote "Dibaxu," a book that explored the Sephardic diaspora following the Spanish Inquisition.

Mr. Gelman had been admired among leftists for his essays and journalistic articles when he became embroiled in the so-called dirty war, the state-sponsored terrorist campaign propagated by Argentina's right-wing junta after a military coup in 1976.

By the time democracy was restored, in 1983, thousands of citizens with suspected ties to socialism and dissident groups had been seized and "disappeared." Mr. Gelman had been living in exile in Europe, but among the kidnapped in 1976 were his 19-year-old daughter, Nora Eva; his 20-year-old son, Marcelo Ariel; and his son's wife, Maria Claudia Garcia Iruretagoyena de Gelman, who was seven months pregnant. …

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