Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Katie Burke (1953–) Biography - Personal to Galeazzo Ciano (1903–1944) Biography » Alejo Carpentier: 1904-1980: Writer Biography - Early Writing Led To Political Activism, Exiled In France, Return To The Americas, Works Proliferated With Voluminous Knowledge

Alejo Carpentier: 1904-1980: Writer - Return To The Americas

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In 1939 Carpentier, then 35 years old, returned to Cuba. He became editor of the Havana journal Tiempo Nuevo, and worked as a musicologist at Cuba's National Conservatory of Music. He also worked for Cuban radio stations. He divorced his second wife, whom he had married in Paris after the death of his first wife from tuberculosis, and married wealthy Cuban heiress Lilia Esteban Hierro in 1941. From that date on, he dedicated each of his books to Esteban. During the early 1940s Carpentier wrote a series of articles, "El ocaso de Europa" for Carteles. Critics consider these essays to be among his best works.


A visit to Haiti in 1943 with French actor Louis Jouvet inspired Carpentier's first well received novel, El reino de est mundo, which was published in 1949. In 1945 Carpentier moved to Caracas, Venezuela, to help establish the advertising agency Publicidad Ars with his friend Carlos Frias. While in Caracas, where he lived until 1959, Carpentier continued his work in journalism, teaching, and television. A visit to the interior of Venezuela inspired a series of four articles, "Vision de America," published in El Nacional in 1947. He also visited the region of the upper Orinoco River, which inspired his novel Los pasos perdidos, which was named best foreign book of the year in France in 1953. Many consider this work to be Carpentier's masterpiece. The novel was popular not only in its original Spanish, but was also hailed by English speaking critics as well who read the translated version entitled The Lost Steps. Like all of Carpentier's fiction, the novel deals with sweeping social themes. It tells the story of a musical conductor who travels into a remote region in Latin America in search of an ancient musical instrument. Instead he finds an ancient culture which allows him finally to discover the artistic voice within himself that his more "civilized" culture had suppressed. He decides to give up his successful life in New York City and return to this older culture, but when he attempts to locate the village once again he cannot find it. As Gregory Rabassa noted in a Saturday Review piece quoted in Contemporary Authors, "The Lost Steps … is contemporary in time but is really a search for origins—the origin first of music and then of the whole concept of civilization."

When Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959, Carpentier—a supporter of Castro's revolution—made a triumphant return to his native land. He was appointed head of the Editorial Nacional and took a teaching position at Havana University. In 1962 he published the novel El siglo de las luces, which became a best seller. The book touches on such subjects as Marxist philosophy and the Cuban Revolution. In 1966 Carpentier was appointed cultural attaché for European affairs for Cuba, and moved back to Paris. Though he was to remain in Europe for the rest of his life, his work continued to focus on the social themes of the Americas. His novel El Recurso del metodo, published in 1974, presents the story of South American dictator who loves French culture and attempts to rule his fictional country, Nueva Cordoba, from his home in Paris. Every so often he must return to South America to put down attempts at revolutions. Gene H. Bell, in a New Boston Review article quoted in Contemporary Authors, described the novel as "no drama of the individual soul, but an imaginative evocation of the material and cultural forces of history." The critic went on to point out the book's overt political message, noting that "Carpentier … places the Dictator (who is actually something of a cultural-historical caricature) within a broader global process, [and] shows how the petty brutalities of South American politics ultimately interlock with European and, later, U.S. interests."


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